The Grizzly Bear Who Met Margaret Thatcher, Appeared in a Bond Movie, and Fled to Scotland for 24 Days

Ray Moreton/Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Ray Moreton/Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images / Ray Moreton/Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

by Aliya Whiteley

The Scottish island of Benbecula is comprised of just over 30 square miles of hills, forests, and beaches, and seems like a great place to escape modern life.

At least, that's what a grizzly bear named Hercules thought in the summer of 1980.

Hercules had been raised in Perthshire, Scotland by wrestler Andy Robin and his wife, Maggie, and had been trained by Andy to take part in wrestling matches. The bear appeared on ITV's World Of Sport, but his popularity went global when he went for a swim and disappeared while filming a Kleenex television commercial on Benbecula in 1980.

Hercules managed to stay out of sight for 24 days, leading to panic amongst the locals who wondered whether a starving grizzly bear might burst into their homes, or eat their livestock. Well, no. Hercules didn't do any damage while living free on the island (he had become used to the taste of cooked meat and no longer ate it raw). And, after being found safe and sound and returned to his home with the Robins, became a much-loved figure around the world.

Hercules met Margaret Thatcher, and Ronald Reagan was said to be a fan. The Scottish Tourist Board crowned him Personality of the Year, and he made the cover of TIME magazine. He even caddied for Bob Hope at Gleneagles once. If you want to see him in action, you can watch the James Bond film Octopussy (1983); he makes an appearance alongside Roger Moore.

Hercules also inspired author Bella Pollen, who was living on the island at the time of bear's brazen escape. She and her siblings spent the summer searching for the bear, and years later, wrote a work of fiction based on the experience called The Summer of the Bear.

Hercules continued wrestling with Robin until 1997, when a slipped disc spelled the end of the bear's career. He passed away three years later.

By Ivanbalich - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Hercules' owners considered him to be part of their family, and he lived peacefully with them throughout his life. In 2013 a statue was erected in memory of Hercules on the island of North Uist, and his remains were moved to be buried there in 2015. So even if he couldn't run free on a Scottish island for too long, at least he's there now, permanently.