Until recently, I couldn’t say I had very much in common with Italian fashion designer Stefano Gabbana. Naomi Campbell is not a close personal friend. I’ve never seen the inside of a yacht. And my wardrobe is distinctly more H&M than D&G. However, there is one thing, it seems, that I share with the Gabbana half of Dolce & Gabbana: we’ve both fallen head over (kitten) heels for the charms of the British Shorthair cat.
Now the UK’s most popular pedigree, the Shorthair’s signature is its plush, couture coat in delicate shades of grey, known as ‘blue’, cream, lilac and sometimes cinnamon (very Farrow & Ball, darling) and its irresistible teddy bear face.
Mr Gabbana introduced ‘the newest member of the #DGFamily’ – a blue kitten named Prince – to the world via his Instagram page earlier this week. So far Prince has been papped with his scratching post, stretching out on a table for tummy rubs and caught napping on an ornate, red and gold Fornasetti tray (guide price £150).
We brought our own bundles of grey fuzzy joy home two years ago: two female blues, named Saga and Birgitte. But as much as I fawned over – and, yes, Instagrammed – my two, I had no idea they were soon to join the elite ranks of the ‘It’ cat. Like designer dogs before them, we’ve now entered the questionable moment of the aristo-cat. Following in the pawprints of so many chihuahuas, pugs, French bulldogs and assorted ‘Poos, from malti to cocker, British Shorthairs are the latest breed to be beloved by celebrities (famous owners include Calvin Harris, Sam Smith and Sadie Frost) and advertisers alike.
British shorthairs have modelled for everyone from Prada to Whiskas cat food. One particularly pretty blue kitten currently stars in the poster campaign for Millennial furniture brand Made, posing in front of a hipster rose-gold food bowl and Scandi-minimalist catbed, naturally.
They’re certainly social media catnip. There are 3.6 million posts tagged #britishshorthair and a further 899k tagged #bsh and 53.1k under #britishshorthairlovers.
Unfortunately, this online deluge may be having unintended real-world consequences. ‘We do have concerns that people are choosing cats solely for the way they look, rather than for their temperament or personality,’ says Rob Young, head of catteries at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. ‘We also think it’s leading to more impulse buying, people bringing in cats for rehoming are increasingly saying they bought them online. Meanwhile, black cats in particular are harder to rehome — and we think one reason is that they don’t show up so well in photographs.’
It should go without saying that a cat is for life, not just for Instagram. Though I will confess to posting an obscene number of pictures of my two. It would take a heart of stone not to coo over the Shorthair’s chubby, cubby, perfectly coiffed cheeks and their round, imploring eyes and slightly snub noses. (Even dyed-in-the-wool Dog People succumb to making goo-goo eyes at ours).
They’re also sweet-natured, thick as clotted cream, and a lot of fun. There’s none of the usual feline aloofness. In fact, I’d go so far as to say the British Shorthair’s true appeal is that, for a cat, they’re surprisingly un-catlike. Calm, contented, and cuddly, they actively seek out and enjoy human company. Birgitte, in particular, cries if she can’t work out where I am in the house.
By comparison, our older cat, a black and white rescue called Shearer (yes, as in Alan – and yes, we love her just as much) watches over us all with regal disdain – and the occasional hard Paddington stare.
The Shorthair’s highly expressive features run the gamut of anxious, decidedly grumpy, incredulous with surprise, or mildly amused – and it’s been suggested that their smirk was the inspiration for John Tenniel’s original illustrations for the Cheshire Cat, gurning away in the Alice In Wonderland tales.
Facial expression is how we’ve come to distinguish our two, who are pretty identical in size and colouring otherwise. Birgitte is the worry-wart, wide-eyed and slightly skittish. While Saga has a serious case of – technical term, here – Resting Bitch Face and the devil-may-care swagger to match. She strides around not unlike a saddle-sore John Wayne, lip curled, nose upturned, as if any minute she might growl: ‘Take a worming pill? The hell I won’t.’
The grey-bears (as we call them) came into our lives at the perfect time, as it would turn out. My husband Dan and I picked them up from the registered breeder a fortnight after I miscarried a much-longed for baby.
We’d put our names down for the cats before I knew I was pregnant, paying £450 each, and ironically, once we found out, we’d talked about changing our minds, after all how sensible was it to get two kittens a few months before bringing home a newborn?
In the event, we were so grateful for the flashes of joy they brought, at a time when we were otherwise monosyllabic with sadness. A pet is no substitute for child – but, still, it is hard to feel completely hopeless when there’s a kitten nuzzling into you or playing up to the crowd. Saga, for instance, likes to entertain us by chasing her own tail and fetching us sticks from the garden.
This is one area in which we do differ from other ‘It cat’ owners. Many British Shorthairs are so precious (and so dense), they inevitably end up house cats, we do, however, allow ours out — albeit under supervision. And they’re much too cowardy-custard to stray beyond the garden fence anyway.
I should probably warn you at this point that while they might be model cats in every other way, the Shorthair’s appetite is definitely more plus-size than picky size-zero. A ‘sturdy’ build anyway, they are prone to putting on weight. Our two are veritable dustbins. The feline equivalent of a marauding Labrador, they will eat anything they can get their whiskers round if we’re not careful: Curry, avocado, the smears and crumbs from a plate of toast and marmalade, crunchy iceberg lettuce leaves, and once, memorably, a hot’n’spicy Wotsit snaffled from under Dan’s nose. (The crisp thief spent a good five minutes licking chilli dust from her lips, but was otherwise unscathed, I can report.)
The only other downside? Grey fluff shows up equally conspicuously on white and dark clothes. Something to bear in mind for next season, perhaps, Mr Gabbana…
A version of this piece was first published by the Daily Mail