He’s actually a she, doesn’t do much chasing mice and requires lot of PR support. Yet Felix, Huddersfield’s station cat, has become a phenomenon and now stars in her own book
By Christian Lisseman
It’s a chilly morning on platform one of Huddersfield Station and I’m waiting for the star of our photoshoot to appear. There’s tension in the air. Andrew McClements, who has gone to fetch her, is not certain she will be up for it.
“She’s a very independent character,” he warns. “So her reaction to stardom and to having her photo taken varies from day to day, depending on what mood she’s in.”
Felix eats, sleeps and hunts around the station every day, except Christmas day
I can see him talking to her through the glass-panelled door that leads into the staff area of the station. As he tries to reassure her, her large black fluffy tail flicks upwards.
McClements’ day job is as the customer experience manager for TransPennine Express (TPE), but these days he’s often more like the PR manager for Felix, Huddersfield’s station cat. McClements was at least partly responsible for catapulting Felix to fame.
Felix arrived at Huddersfield station six years ago. The station staff had been “desperate for a cat” and she was one of a litter born to a cat belonging to a member of the team, so she came along at the perfect time. There was a bit of confusion regarding her gender so she’d already been named when a vet revealed she was, in fact, a girl. But the name stuck.
To justify her presence in the station, she was officially taken on as a mouser but, McClements points out: “She doesn’t seem to do a lot of chasing, although we’ve never seen a mouse here so she must be doing her job OK.”
Felix’s rise to stardom came in February 2016, when McClements thought it would be a wheeze to get the cat a high-viz jacket and a name badge, and promote her to “senior pest controller”. He took a photo and shared it on Felix’s Facebook page, not thinking it would go much further than the few hundred followers Felix already had.
“It was just supposed to be a small joke for the team,” says McClements. But the post went viral. Since then, her Facebook followers have rocketed from 500 to over 105,000. The photo made national press and caught the attention of Penguin, which then contracted the station with the idea for the recently published book Felix The Railway Cat.
“The book tells the story of when she first arrived until the present day,” explains McClements. “It has stories of people who encountered her and a few times when there has been a difficult situation and we’ve wheeled Felix out to defuse things. Lots of nice little anecdotes.”
Felix isn’t the only railway cat in the world of course. Indeed, as McClements explains, there has been a history of cats on the railways, many of them recognised members of staff just like Felix, who have been added to the company payroll. “It’s less common nowadays. But back in British Rail days a lot of signal boxes used to have them both for pest control and company.”
But the number of railway cats declined rapidly. In 1992 the London Evening Standard decried that the numbers had fallen from an estimated 2,000 in the “golden days of rail” to around 200, with numbers set to fall further as more stations and signal boxes closed or became unstaffed.
Because Huddersfield is a 24 hour station, Felix eats, sleeps and hunts in and around the station every day, except Christmas and Boxing Day. Staff members take it in turns to have Felix stay with them over the festive period, including Jean Randall, a softly spoken Yorkshire woman, who has worked in the ticket office for 12 years.
“I’ve had her three times for Christmas. I don’t like to think of her being left on her own,” says Randall, who believes all cat owners have a responsibility to “make their lives as lovely as possible”.
Randall is aware of the pressure of taking care of Felix now she is a media star. Just before last Christmas she spoke to one of the HR managers at TPE. “She said to me: ‘Oh, you’re having Felix, aren’t you? No pressure, but don’t lose her!’ I thought, oh my god! It’s quite stressful.”
Luckily for Randall, Felix didn’t get up to too much mischief last Christmas, unlike a previous Christmas Randall had her when she tried running up the chimney, a dramatic escape attempt detailed in the book.
With Felix’s new stardom come great opportunities to raise money for charity. At the end of last year TPE produced a calendar, which was so popular the website it was sold on crashed within half an hour of it going online. Sales from the calendar raised £15,000 for the local Samaritans helpline. Royalties from the book are going to TPE’s charity of the year, Prostate Cancer UK, and Randall is planning a station to station walk soon to raise money for a local disability charity, and is hoping that Felix will be there to drum up support.
And, as McClements explains, Felix’s stardom has meant that the cost of keeping her at the station, which is met by TPE, has also gone down. Boxes of food and treats arrive for Felix from admirers from around the world. “I haven’t had to sign off an order for food since I don’t know when.”
Luckily for us, Felix has decided that today is a good day for a photoshoot and has allowed McClements to carry her out on to the platform. When the pictures have been taken, she sits behind a bike on the station bike rack, one of her favourite spots. It’s near to the office door, which leads into the maze of rooms within the station building, including the staff locker room, where she has a box and blanket, and where she spends many hours during the day between her station patrols.
Both Randall and McClements are careful to ensure all this new publicity doesn’t get too much for Felix.
“Sometimes I feel sorry for her because somebody will drag her out when she’s asleep and she’s not happy,” says Randall. “She’s not a performing cat. This is her home.”
And when all the fuss about the Facebook page and the book has died down, Felix will continue to do what she does best, bringing pleasure to the close-knit team at the station.
“I’ve said this before and I know it’s a bit cheesy but she’s a member of the team, one of the staff here,” says McClements. “She’s a colleague who happens to
be a cat.”
Felix The Railway Cat by Kate Moore is out now (Penguin, £12.99)
More station cats in the north
The ginger cat (pictured below) who lives in and around the West Yorkshire station building, which includes a ticket office, taxi service and art studios, goes by a few names, including Garfield, Boss and Boris, although his official name is Dinky. He was taken in around eight years ago by someone from the taxi service, but he’s a cat that knows no boundaries and is often seen sleeping in a basket on top of the partition wall behind the station ticket desk.
Liverpool South Parkway
Bengal cat Paul isn’t a resident of the station but lives nearby and is a regular visitor. There was an incident a few years ago when Paul bit a member of staff after she accidentally stood on his tail and he was discouraged from visiting for a while. But now he’s been welcomed back and he can be found, according to his dedicated Facebook page, on the “wheelchair behind the barrier going towards platforms 1-4”, in the “executive lounge” when he wants privacy, or “underneath the heater” in the ticket office when it’s cold.
Kirkby Stephen East
Derelict until 1997, when volunteers started work to restore it and turn it into a heritage museum, the Cumbrian station has been home to several cats over the last few years. Quaker is now the “senior station cat”, named by one of the volunteers after Darlington’s local football team since she is black and white (the same colour as the Quakers’ strip) and she was found on the old Darlington-bound platform.
Many cats have made their home at this North Yorkshire Moors Railway station, either in the station building or the locomotive sheds. According to purr-n-fur.org.uk, which has a list of station cats across the country, there are two cats there at the moment, Dink and Erica. They are looked after by one of the fitters during the week, and by the shop supervisor at weekends. Erica was found sleeping on one of the steam engines in a siding. At one point her bed was moved to a diesel engine, but was moved back after she refused to use it.
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