Earlier this year, we featured historical figures who adored their feline friends. Volunteer contributor Azmina Gulamhusein gives us a look at some famous cat lovers of more recent times.
Freddie Mercury, lead singer of the band Queen, adored cats. In the 1970s, his girlfriend Mary Austin bought them a pair of cats called Tom and Jerry, and while he was on tour he would make long-distance phone calls to check up on them, with Mary holding the cats up to the receiver so they could hear his voice! Mercury eventually had 10 cats, mostly adopted from rescue centres, and he lavished them with affection, giving them their own bedrooms in his London mansion.
They even inspired his music: in 1985 he dedicated a solo album, Mr Bad Guy, to his cats “and all the cat lovers across the universe.” He shared a special bond with his favourite cat, Delilah, and wrote a song especially for her, with guitar harmonies that sound like meows.
Rolling Stone magazine reported that “Mercury spent hours with watercolours trying to paint a portrait of the tortoiseshell – and when he was dying in 1991, one of his final actions was stroking her fur.” In his will, he left most of his fortune to Mary Austin and his feline companions, whom he considered to be his greatest loves.
When the award-winning Welsh actor Sir Anthony Hopkins was filming in Budapest, Hungary, a stray tabby cat was brought to the hotel where he was staying in the hope of finding the puss a new owner. Hopkins and his wife Stella were so taken with the cat that they had soon ordered him a load of cat toys and decided to take him back to their home in California. They named him Niblo (an affectionate term for a little boy in Welsh).
Hopkins continues to enjoy a close relationship with his furry pal. One of his passions is painting and Niblo features in several of his pictures. His artwork often explores dreams and the unconscious mind, and he has produced a vivid printed design called Dream Cat.
During the coronavirus lockdown this year, Hopkins (now 82) shared an adorable video on social media of him playing a pleasant tune on the piano to Niblo, who sits on his lap and purrs with contentment. The video is captioned, “Niblo is making sure I stay healthy and demands I entertain him in exchange.” Niblo clearly brings Hopkins great joy and has helped him to cope with the lockdown. Hopkins has described the pleasures of his life as “a cat, a piano, a book, and a cup of tea.”
Choreographer and former Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Phillips has spoken movingly of the solace that cats can bring during times of stress or sadness: “I think people have this idea that cats aren’t emotive, but in my experience, they are. They can sense your mood and they’re there for you. There’s nothing more comforting.” In 2014, Phillips’ youngest daughter, Abi, adopted a ginger kitten called Romeo from us.
A member of the public handed in Romeo and his baby sister after finding them abandoned in a bin bag. Phillips instantly fell in love with the tiny ball of ginger fluff, and Romeo apparently loves giving Phillips soothing cuddles and chasing anything that moves. With her expert dance eye, Phillips is even convinced that Romeo can keep time to music and has excellent rhythm!
As well as giving Romeo a lovely home, Phillips has become a great supporter of our work, for which we are very grateful, and loved having her host our first ever virtual Mayhew Carols event earlier this month (8 December).
Actress Joanna Lumley developed a deep affection for cats during her childhood in Malaya (now Malaysia). One day, Lumley was walking with her mother and their dog when suddenly they heard a mewing sound coming from a well and found a helpless kitten struggling in the water. Lumley and her mother managed to pull the drowning kitten out and decided to keep him.
Later in life, when Lumley was living in Kent, her teenage son brought home another tiny kitten, who the family named The Bee. He eventually grew into a handsome tabby and proved to be a real comfort to Lumley: “He’d sit like a sphinx on my chest, right over my heart, gazing into my eyes. His purring would make me feel so much more tranquil.” When The Bee died in 2004, Lumley had a small gravestone put in her garden inscribed with the words “best cat.”
In 2009, she made a two-part ITV documentary called Joanna Lumley: Catwoman for which she travelled the world to explore our unique relationship with domestic and wild cats. Highlights include her visits to a Belgian cat festival and an ancient Egyptian tomb with cat drawings on the walls.
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