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Hercules the Bear – ‘He was my boy, and that’s how we treated him’

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Imagine what life would be like if you shared your home with a nine-foot-tall, 70-stone grizzly bear.

Well, Perthshire woman Maggie Robin knows as she and her husband Andy lived with one for 25 years and loved him as their son.

Hercules the Bear, or Herc as he was known, was something of a legend during the 1980s.

He met Margaret Thatcher, dined in pubs on London’s Fleet Street, was named ‘personality of the year’ by the Scottish Tourist Board and drank a lot of beer.

Families would turn out in their hundreds to meet him at public events.

And he became the stuff of international folklore when he went missing for 24 days in the wild and unforgiving terrain of the island of Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides in August/September 1980.

Now, former international show-jumping champion Maggie has released a revised version of the book she wrote during his heyday telling of the bear’s many appearances in advertisements, films and on TV.

And it reveals how, 15 years after Herc’s death at the age of 25, the couple have come to realise just how much he taught them about life.

The Courier caught up with Maggie, now 64, in Auchterarder, where she lives with Andy, 79, who suffered a stroke three years ago, and their Jack Russell Robbie.

She runs a clothing boutique called Bear Necessities on Auchterarder High Street which has photos of Hercules on the walls and is dotted with bear ornaments.

It was officially opened by Hercules 20 years ago.

“When I sat down to write the revised book, it was like water from a tap. It just flowed and it was nice to put across my kind of feelings as well as to how it all came to be,”Maggie revealed over coffee.

“I cried loads when I was writing it. I could only write about 2.5 hours and I was wiped out.

“But it was nice to relive these things. It’s amazing the things we did, the things he did, the things he let you do. We probably wouldn’t be allowed to do half of it now because it would be against health and safety! That’s why I think today’s kids are so fascinated by the Herc story.”

Andy, who was a British Commonwealth wrestling champion, initially bought Herc from a Scottish zoo as a nine-month old cub in 1976 with the dream of domesticating him and turning him into a unique sparring partner. But word of a domesticated grizzly soon spread and he quickly became an international sensation.

It’s Hercules the bear cub which features in children’s books Maggie is now writing in her spare time.

She treated Hercules like a son but the Lanarkshire-raised farmer’s daughter admits she now regrets she didn’t have children of her own.

She added: “He was my boy, and that’s how we treated him. Our top priority was to keep him safe. You’re not going to put your kids in danger! He was first, Andy and I were second, in all the things we did.

“But we consciously didn’t have children,”she said with a sigh. “We were having a ball. And we were really busy. I was doing my horses as well still. Time slipped by. I did get broody for a wee while, and I thought, goshIf a little toddler is roaming about, would it be the responsible thing to do? I kind of miss it now, but..ochI’ve got my nieces and nephews, I’ve got lots of nice friends and love living in Auchterarder. It’s the best friendliest town. You are part of a family here.”

The Robins and Herc lived for many years on a ranch at Sheriffmuir, near Dunblane. And when Herc died, he was buried there.

But when they decided to move into Auchterarder, the emotional decision was taken to rebury him on Uist where he once roamed free.

Earlier this year they decided they would like him to be re-buried near a life-size statue of him that had been erected by the community in North Uist, looking down to the sea.

“Now that he’s up in Uist and the circle is complete almost, the stories will grow arms and legs. He’ll be 12 feet tall and weighed a ton!,” she laughed.

“It’s a fitting place for him. He was such an extraordinary bear who gave us so much more than we could ever have expected. He touched the hearts of millions. It’s appropriate now that he lives on in the folklore of the islands as he lies permanently sleeping in the woods. The myths and stories of his escapes will be forever entwined.”

In July Maggie and Andy placed a memorial stone over Hercules’s resting place. The inscription on it reads: “Hercules the Bear lies sleeping here, watching over his beloved islands, resting in peace.”

Hercules may be gone, but his legend will live forever.

Hercules the Bear by Maggie Robin (John Blake Publishing, £12.99)