History’s Craziest Cat People

WINSTON CHURCHILL The British PM never apologised – except to cats. During a phone conversation with the Lord Chancellor, Churchill’s tabby Mickey played with the phone cord. Churchill shouted, “Get off the line, you fool!” Then explained to the Lord Chancellor: “Not you.” The wartime leader later begged Mickey’s forgiveness. Among his favourite felines was Horatio Nelson, a grey who Churchill stated was doing more for the war effort than he was, serving as the prime ministerial hot water bottle. He was also prone to falling in love with kittens; he claimed a black stray that he believed brought him good luck.

FREDDIE MERCURY Christmas time at Chez Mercury was a lavish affair for Freddie’s several cats; each got their own stocking, stuffed with toys and treats. His favourite, Delilah, a tabby he adopted in 1987, inspired the Queen track of the same name. The rock icon sang: You make me so very happy / When you cuddle up and go to sleep beside me / And then you make me slightly mad / When you pee all over my Chippendale suite. He dedicated his solo album to his cat Jerry “and all the cat lovers across the universe – screw everybody else.”

FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE The founder of modern nursing believed cats possessed “more sympathy and feelings than human beings”, and owned around 60 during her lifetime. She returned from the Crimean war an invalid, but continued to work, authoring books and pamphlets with a cat slung permanently over her shoulders. Felines overran the Nightingale abode, knocking over inkwells and leaving trails of paw prints on her manuscripts. She was fondest of Mr Bismark, a Persian who ate on schedule. For this reason, she considered him a gentleman, observing, “He is particularly partial to a little rice pudding with his five o’clock tea.”

WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS “Enemies of the state” is how Burroughs described cats. He also considered them “psychic companions”. The American author and leading figure of the Beat Generation was a devoted subscriber to Cat Fancy, collecting hundreds of issues for his personal library. In his final journal entry, written just prior to his death, he proclaimed the only thing that can resolve conflict is love, “like I felt for Fletch and Ruski, Spooner and Calico. Pure love. What I feel for my cats past and present.” The UFO enthusiast buried his felines in backyard cat cemetery.

ENYA Irish millionaire Enya eschews the company of humans, preferring to dwell alone in her castle near Dublin. Her castle-mates include a few staff members and a dozen cats. “I had partners,” she says, “but I find long relationships, well, how can I say it without appearing strange? I’m too much devoted to my music. Some people think it sounds sad, but believe me, I’m happy.” Little is known about the singer-songwriter who has recorded tracks in Sindarin and Quenya, languages invented by Tolkien. Owing to her love of cats, she has earned the moniker “the single ladies’ messiah”.

CATHERINE THE GREAT At 33, following her husband’s mysterious death by strangulation, Catherine the Great took charge of the biggest empire on Earth: All The Russias. She also took charge of the palace’s battalion of cats, brought in to eliminate rodents. The part-time writer upgraded the cats’ status to official employees. (They continue to ‘work’ in their anointed capacity of museum guards at The Hermitage in St Petersburg.) To endear Catherine, her lover Prince Grigory Potemkin gifted her with an Angora kitty. It worked; she referred to her furry friend as “the cat of all cats” and “he of the velvety paws”.

Image: Candice Carlin

This article first appeared in frankie magazine issue 75 (Jan/Feb 2017).

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