Larry the cat has just marked a very big occasion – his tenth anniversary as Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office. The title is bestowed on the official resident cat of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom at 10 Downing Street. According to historians, there’s been a resident cat in the British government since the 1500s, but Larry is the first to be given the official title of Chief Mouser. Title aside, he’s also one of the few to have come to the position via the streets. The former stray has enjoyed a rags to riches story that few other cats can compete with.
Downing Street’s Rat Problem
In January 2011, Downing Street received some very unwanted visitors. During a TV news report, viewers were treated to the sight of rats scurrying across the steps of Number 10. It wasn’t the first time rodents had paid the Prime Minister a visit, but this was one time too many. At that point, Number 10 was without a resident cat. After the rats made their presence known, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister said they had no plans to bring a cat on board to help with the problem. But after rumors began to circulate about a pro cat fraction in Downing Street, the press started to speculate about whether Number 10 would soon be singing to a different tune. And indeed, they were. Just a couple of weeks after the PM’s spokesperson declared the government had no intention of introducing a cat to Number 10, the London Evening Standard ran an article on how Prime Minister David Cameron and his family had rescued a brown and white Tabby from Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. The cat in question? Larry.
From the Streets to Number 10
After being adopted from Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, Larry made his official debut as the new four-legged inhabitant of Numer 10 Downing Street. As Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes, Larry was the first feline inhabitant of Number 10 since the retirement of Humphrey in 1997. Humphrey, a former stray himself, occupied Downing Street between 1989 and 1997, serving under the premierships of Margaret Thatcher, John Major, and Tony Blair.
A Loyal Servant
Since taking up official residence at Downing Steet, Larry has served three prime ministers: David Cameron, Theresa May, and now Boris Johnson. In fairness, his relationship with some PMs hasn’t always been the best. Cameron described Larry as being nervous around men, possibly as a result of having negative experiences prior to being rescued. In 2013, tensions between Larry and Cameron were reportedly at boiling point, with the press claiming that Cameron was getting tired of picking off cat hair from his suits and of having to use air freshener whenever Downing Street had visitors to disguise the smell of cat food. Cameron responded by tweeting that he and Larry got on “purr-fectly well.” When Cameron left office in 2016, he spoke of his regret about not being able to take Larry with him.
When the Cameron’s first introduced Larry to Downing Street, he was described as a “good ratter” with “a high chase-drive and hunting instinct.” On 22 April 2011, he made his first private killing. 4 months later, he made his first public killing when he deposited his victim on the lawn in front of Number 10. But then he discovered he’d far rather nap than hunt. In 2012, Cameron almost fired him after he failed to bat an eyelid, let alone a paw, at a mouse in the PM’s office. Since then, he’s been routinely criticized by both the press (who’ve awarded him the title of “Lazy Larry”) and anonymous sources at Downing Street, some of whom have claimed he has a “distinct lack of killer instinct.”
Larry might show plenty of compassion to the rodents of Downing Street, but he’s not always quite so friendly to some of its other animals. In June 2012, Larry was introduced to Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s cat Freya. Although Downing Street claimed the two got on well, pictures showing them fighting suggested otherwise. In 2016, a black and white bicolor cat named Palmerston moved into the Foreign Office. Tensions between Palmerston and Larry were immediately obvious. In July, Palmerston tried to force entry into Number 10 and had to be forcibly evicted from the premises by security staff. It didn’t stop him from trying again, and in September, Larry had to pay a visit to the vets after picking up an injury defending his territory from the invading Palmerston. Palmerston didn’t get off scot-free and was said to have suffered a badly cut ear and several deep scratches.
Ambassador For Battersea
Within a year of Larry’s debut at Downing Street, cat adoptions at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home had surged by a massive 15%, something the shelter attributed solely to the “Larry effect”. “Throughout his time at No. 10, Larry has proven himself to not only be a brilliant ambassador for Battersea but also demonstrated to millions of people around the world how incredible rescue cats are,” Lindsey Quinlan, the head of cattery of Battersea, tells US News. “His rags to riches tale is yet more proof of why all animals deserve a second chance — one minute they may be an overlooked stray on the streets, the next they could become one of the nation’s beloved political figures, with fans around the world.”
Larry is now 14 years old. Despite showing initial promise as a ratter, he’s since given up on even pretending to be in control of Downing Street’s rodent problem. These days, he keeps himself entertained by tripping up visiting dignitaries and napping on radiators. Having served under three Prime Ministers over the course of a decade, he’s now one of the longest-serving mousers in Downing Street history. The only cat to have served longer is Wilberforce, a rescue cat who was adopted from the RSPCA in 1973 by then Prime Minister Edward Heath. Wilberforce served for 13 years under four different PMs: Edward Heath, Harold Wilson, Jim Callaghan, and Margaret Thatcher. A dedicated pest control agent, Wilberforce was widely regarded as “the best mouser in Britain.” As a cat who much prefers to catch forty winks than a mouse, Larry’s reputation might not be in quite the same league as Wilberforce’s. But as rags to riches stories go, he’s without equal.