Margaret Thatcher thought pandas did not make “happy omens” for travelling politicians, newly-released government files reveal.
While “panda diplomacy” may have been a favourite ploy of Chinese leaders, the former Prime Minister was not a fan of such diplomatic gifts.
Her surprising aversion to the nearly universally loved creatures emerged in January 1981, when the Smithsonian Institution in Washington asked London Zoo for the loan of its male panda to be mated with a female panda which the Chinese had given to the United States.
The request was seized upon by the president of the London Zoological Society, Lord Zuckerman, as an opportunity to generate some much-needed publicity for the cash-strapped zoo.
He immediately contacted Downing Street suggesting the prime minister herself might like to preside over the handover.
The cabinet secretary, Sir Robert Armstrong, wrote: “Lord Zuckerman sees this as a signal demonstration of the special relationship and would be very happy to time the announcement of the loan or the delivery of the panda in any way that the prime minister thought would be most likely to benefit Anglo-American relations.
“He even suggested that the Prime Minister might like to take the panda in the back of her Concorde, when she goes to Washington next month.”
Ms Thatcher, however, was less than enthusiastic.
Her private secretary, Clive Whitmorem replied: “She has commented that she is not taking a panda with her – ‘Pandas and politicians are not happy omens!”’
In a handwritten aside, she added: “Lord Z knows more about pandas than I do – I am sure he can arrange these things.”