Beekeeping is not an activity reserved only for farmers or other people who work with their hands. It is an extremely soothing way to spend time—one that has a mass appeal across all corners of society, even among the rich and famous. It may be a surprise, but there are many famous celebrities who enjoy beekeeping. Some of them found it to be a relaxing distraction from their life in the public eye, while others became so engrossed in the hobby that they considered the work just as important as the projects that gave them fame.
The brilliant Russian novelist of War and Peace and Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy was also a committed beekeeper. Sonja, his wife, wrote in her diary, “The apiary has become the center of the world for him now, and everybody has to be interested exclusively in bees!” She describes him, “crouching in front of his hives, net over his head.”
Beekeeping and bees had an impact on his work as well. In his novel War and Peace, he describes Moscow’s evacuation, “Moscow was empty. It was deserted as a dying, queenless hive is deserted.”
The consummate arts, crafts, and everything nice expert, Martha Stewart owes her impressive, blooming Katonah, NY garden to her beehives. She has been among the famous celebrities who enjoy beekeeping since the 1970s. It is just one of the many hats she has taken on, including fashion model, stockbroker, publisher, and editor. Perhaps one could say she has been a busy bee.
The American poet and beekeeper Sylvia Plath was the daughter of Professor Otto Plath, one of the authorities on beekeeping in his time. He wrote Bumblebees and Their Ways, a scientific study of bees in North America, with the New England States as a focus.
Though Plath’s father died when she was eight and she described him in unfavorable terms, his love for beekeeping transferred on to her. During her short life, Plath often kept and wrote poetry about bees.
The American actor Henry Fonda had his bees feast on the lemon and orange trees in his Bel Air estate. Friends, visitors, and co-stars remember that as a gift he often gave out jars of natural raw honey, which he called “Henry’s Honey.” His son Peter Fonda, also an actor, would go on to receive critical acclaim for his role as a beekeeper in the movie Ulee’s Gold.
On a movie set, Scarlett Johansson and co-star Samuel L. Jackson bonded over a shared interest in bees. Johansson, an environmentalist, expressed a concern about colony collapse disorder, a recent worldwide crisis where hives have been destroyed when most worker bees disappear. Jackson, already a beekeeper, decided to get Johansson beehives as a wedding gift when she married actor Ryan Reynolds. While the marriage has since ended, Johansson remains a committed beekeeper.
Gordon Sumner, the leader of the band The Police, better known by his all-too-relevant pseudonym “Sting,” was gifted the name in college when he became known for his black and yellow sweaters. Now he is a patron for Bees for Development, a nonprofit that aims to improve forests in developing countries by training locals in beekeeping.
He also keeps bees with his wife Trudie Styler on their 400-year-old Italian Villa “Il Pagagio.” On their property, they make chestnut honey from a chestnut grove.
Jennifer Garner, the actress and entrepreneur, revealed on Jimmy Kimmel Live! that she decided to take up beekeeping after her daughter became fascinated by a book about the subject. During the interview, she said, “Why can’t we have bees? Bees are in trouble. Everyone should have a hive of bees.” She continues to show her passion for beekeeping through posts on her Instagram.
Maria Von Trapp
The singer, matriarch of the Trapp Family Singers, and the basis for Julie Andrews’s character in the 1965 musical film The Sound of Music, Maria Von Trapp escaped with her family from Nazi-annexed Austria in 1939, on the eve of the Second World War. The family made a home in a Vermont farm, where Maria decided to take up beekeeping. The farm, now called the Trapp Family Lodge, is available to the public.
A brilliant early student of biology, metaphysics, and geology, the philosopher Aristotle also found time to keep bees and record some of their earliest scientific observations. In his Historia Animalium, or History of Animals, Aristotle recorded bees as they flew from flowers to their hives, though he had no way of knowing that they were pollinating. Beekeepers still enjoy reviewing his work, as some of it is surprisingly close to the reality we now understand, and other portions still show their age.
In 2014, Morgan Freeman turned his 124-acre Mississippi ranch into a bee refuge with 26 hives. For the bees, he planted magnolia trees, lavender, and clover. Though he does not do much beekeeping himself—that responsibility falls on his gardener—when he does work with them, he prefers not to wear gloves in order to be “one with the bees.”
Sir Edmund Hillary
Sir Edmund Hillary, in 1953, changed the world when he became the first person to reach the summit of Mt. Everest. The New Zealander was a professional beekeeper. He took up beekeeping as his primary source of income because it allowed him to work in the summers and still have the winter left open for his first and primary love: mountaineering. Without beekeeping to keep him fed and housed, who knows if he ever would have climbed Everest and created such an impact during his lifetime.
The founder of the Girl Scouts and sister of Boy Scouts Founder Lord Robert Baden Powell, Agnes Baden-Powell produced prizewinning honey from the hive that she kept in her home. The bees had access to the outside through a pipe in a wall, but they were also free to fly around the house, along with her butterflies and birds.
Beekeeping remains a hobby that attracts people from all walks of life, even those who live in the public eye. As beekeeping releases stress, exposes you to interesting scientific observations, and helps improve the environment, it should come as no surprise that famous and influential people throughout history found joy or solace in the activity.