T he cats of Garden Lodge each had their own distinct personality. Some were outgoing and boisterous, others shy and reserved. They were mostly rescue cats, found in shelters across London and brought home to join the pampered feline family that clustered about their master at home.
Throughout his adult life, Freddie absolutely doted on his cats. From calling them up at night when he was touring, to dispensing abundant cuddles, kisses and snuggles when at home, the adoration for his furry brood was warmly reciprocated, even from the most taciturn of the gang. Garden Lodge was copiously littered with toys, each cat had its own selected roosting spot, there were spacious private quarters and of course, there was every cat’s idea of heaven - a large, bird-friendly garden to play in.
Most of the cats preferred to base operations in the kitchen, the heart of Garden Lodge, where they could keep a keen eye on daily comings and goings and of course, the preparation of meals. However, with the entire house at their disposal, their days were happily filled with exploration, patrolling the grounds, socialising, snoozing and deep thinking, at various sites across the property.
This summer, the Sotheby's Story Café in London relaunches as Miko and Delilah at the Story Café, a special one-off makeover that pays tribute to the Mercury cat clan. To whet your appetite, we take a look at each of Freddie's beloved tabbies, from glam rocker Oscar to the dynamic duo of Lily and Romeo, the final cats Freddie acquired in 1986.
A sharp, streetwise cat-about-town Oscar knew all the tricks and angles needed to navigate life with a rock icon. Freddie was on the cusp of global fame when Oscar arrived on the scene in the mid-1970s, and was more than happy to show his new owner how superstars behave. When Mary moved around the corner to Phillimore Gardens, Oscar would think nothing of strolling the short distance between the houses to check all was well, before graciously accepting a carry home in her arms, back to Freddie’s.
TIFFANY (AKA ‘TIFFY’)
Spotted as a kitten by Mary in the window of a nearby pet shop, Tiffany was one of nature's princesses, a blue point Persian whose refined and aristocratic nature couldn’t have been more different to Oscar’s rough and tumble personality. The pair quickly became close, Oscar worshipping his refined companion while Tiffy looked up to her big brother with dignified adoration. Freddie, of course, idolised his floofy princess. Tiffy, who usually received visitors in the kitchen, was very discerning about who could approach her, but always permitted her master to spoil her rotten. Quite rightly, too.
Delilah joined the cat clan in 1986, shortly after Freddie had moved into Garden Lodge. Whilst Freddie’s love for each of his cats is without question - this was after all, the man who, while on tour, would insist on calling home to insist a cat or two be held up to the phone for a loving chat - it’s said Delilah was his favourite. Certainly, this self-possessed and charismatic animal beguiled and delighted him like none other.
Freddie occasionally tried to capture this particular cat’s inscrutable essence. Former assistant Peter Freestone remembers frustrated attempts to capture her likeness in watercolours - Freddie begging the animal to please, just sit still for a moment whilst he frantically paddled his paintbrush and swiped a few strokes. When this didn't work, he turned to a more obvious means of immortalising Delilah - writing a song in her honour on Queen’s 1991 Innuendo album. Despite some misgivings from his bandmates, the track laid bare Freddie’s undying love for the creature, even when, as he sings, she micturated freely on his Chippendale furniture.
“You bring me hope, you make me laugh, and I like it
You get away with murder so innocent
But when you throw a moody
You're all claws and you bite
You take over my house and home
You even try to answer my telephone
Delilah, you're the apple of my eye”
The yin to Delilah’s yang, Goliath was a shy, timid fellow who was found, along with Delilah, in a cat sanctuary. They were both in a very weak state. The pair were quickly claimed by Mary and brought home to recuperate within the loving bosom of the Garden Lodge gang.
Like Freddie, Goliath was obsessed with Delilah, unlike Freddie, he would cry and whine if she left him. This grew to be something of a problem and in due course, cat specialists were consulted. Happily, Goliath emerged from beneath the shadow of his superstar sister and with the help of the Garden Lodge Godfather Romeo (below), quickly established himself in his own right as a cheeky and lively individual.
One day in 1986, Mary visited an animal sanctuary in south London, a home for stray cats and dogs. There, sitting ‘very calmly and peacefully’ in the midst of the mayhem, she found Miko. A self-sufficient, polite kitten, Miko (soon nicknamed Micky) moved into Garden Lodge. There, she flourished, becoming one of the clowder's more cerebral members, a philosopher who would behave courteously in social situations, perhaps indulge a friendly ear-tickle or two, but generally, liked being left to her own devices. Favouring one particular cushion in the Sitting Room as her perch of preference, Miko devoted her days to relaxing, stretching and pondering the infinite.
Not since Oscar’s heyday had a cat stalked the corridors and hallways with such assurance and authority. Freddie’s final catquisitions, siblings Romeo and Lily, were a study in contrasts, but it was big Romeo who ruled the roost at Garden Lodge. No other cat would dare cross him, and quite a few humans tended to mind their P’s and Q’s around him too. He ruled with a paw of iron and things would quickly get exciting if he perceived any threats towards himself or his underlings. However his fierce protectiveness towards sister Lily was legendary and it was a very foolish adversary indeed who dared disrespect her. This furry godfather's tender side was further demonstrated when he accepted shy, traumatised Goliath as his sidekick. As their bromance evolved, the pair often took their ease curled up together; Goliath clearly wise to the politics of power.
Romeo’s sister enjoyed absolute devotion and protection from her headstrong sibling and was probably privy to most of his schemes and plottings. However, Lily kept the hurly burly of Romeo's life at paw's length and instead liked to spend her days lounging in the Japanese Room, a sign of her elevated status and refined tastes. Most people were only allowed in the Japanese Room by express invitation. But Lily was not most people.
Miko and Delilah at The Story Cafe
Tuesday 1 August – Tuesday 5 September
Open: Monday-Friday | 8:30 AM-4:30 PM
Saturday-Sunday & Bank Holidays | 11:00 AM-4:30 PM
* Menus subject to change
*Walk-in, no reservations required. The Story Café is accessible via 1-2 St George Street only. You cannot enter the café from the exhibition, nor will you be able to re-enter the exhibition from the café.