After a Dreary Ten-Year Absence, Number 10 Downing Street Has a New Resident Feline and Her Name Is Sybil
"Petit a petit, les chats deviennent l'ame de la maison."
-- Jean Cocteau
For the first time in more than a decade Number 10 Downing Street has a resident feline. Her name is Sybil and she belongs to Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling and his wife, Margaret. (See photos above and below.)
The black and white moggy arrived in London on September 10th when the Darlings relocated from Edinburgh in order that Alistair could join Gordon Brown's new government. She will live with them in the flat above Number 10 since the prime minister and his wife, Sarah, have opted instead for the roomier accommodations above Number 11.
Sybil also will be allowed full access to the building and grounds. "It's quite difficult to confine cats," a spokesman for the prime minister wisely explained to the Daily Mail on September 11th. (See "Ten Years After the Humphrey Hoo-Ha, a Cat Returns to Downing Street.")
The new addition to his government has received the endorsement of the prime minister and his wife. "The prime minister and Sarah do not have a problem with it," his spokesman told the BBC on September 12th. (See "No. 10 Gets New Feline First Lady.")
Since the Darlings will be paying for Sybil's care out of their own pockets, she will be expected to earn her keep. "Sybil has been brought down because there are mice here," Darling told the Daily Mail on September 15th. (See "Mice One, Sybil, the Job's Yours.") "She's a really good mouser."
Darling went on to point out that since the departure of Humphrey, the last feline to inhabit Number 10, the mice have gotten out of control. He does not expect that situation to last much longer, however. "Sybil will soon sort it out," he added confidently.
Other than her prowess in rodent control, not much is known about Sybil except for the fact that the Darlings have continued a long tradition by naming her after a television character. In her case, she was named after Basil Fawlty's wife, Sybil, from the 1970s sitcom, Fawlty Towers.
Given time, however, she will no doubt leave her indelible mark on Number 10 just as her illustrious predecessors have done. "Petit a petit, les chats deviennent l'ame de la maison," as Jean Cocteau once noted.
She may even be able to assist the chancellor in putting Old Blighty's financial house in order should he be astute enough to seek out her counsel. After all, cats know a thing or two concerning matters of the purse.
She succeeds Humphrey, a saucy tom, who arrived as a stray in October of 1989 during the waning days of the "Iron Lady's" rule and stayed on through John Major's tenure. He, unfortunately, was banished from governmental service in 1997 by Tony Blair's ailurophobic wife, Cherie.
Humphrey was then adopted by a member of the Cabinet and spent the remainder of his days in exile in south London. Sadly, he died about eighteen months ago. (See Cat Defender post of April 6, 2006 entitled "Humphrey, the Cat from 10 Downing Street Who Once 'Read' His Own Obituary, Passes Away at 18.")
Before Humphrey, there was a cat named Wilberforce who arrived at Number 10 in 1973 during the administration of Edward Heath and stayed on through the governments of Harold Wilson, James Callaghan, and Margaret Thatcher. (See photo above.) He retired on April 3, 1987 and died the following year.
London has been home to many famous felines over the centuries but its most illustrious one may not even have existed. Moreover, its name is not even known.
That cat belonged to Dick Whittington who was elected Lord Mayor of the city four times during the 1300s and 1400s. Real or fanciful, the cat has been immortalized in a modern stained-glass window at St. Michael Paternoster Royal on College Hill. The depiction shows a young Whittington with the cat sitting at his feet.
Photos: Getty (Sybil on the go), BBC (Sybil), and Frances Broomfield's painting from the Bridgeman Art Library (Wilberforce).