In 2015, I emailed my friends to tell them some important news: ‘I’m thinking of starting a Twitter account for my cat.’
I flooded their inboxes with cat pics paired with example captions. Reactions were favourable: ‘She looks so animated!’, ‘She looks more like a teddy bear than a cat!’ and ‘I can’t think right now, SHE IS JUST TOO CUTE!’
Without needing further encouragement, @CuriousZelda was born.
Only a year before, I was a wannabe cat dad searching for my feline fix. I visited the Mayhew Rescue Shelter in Kensal Green, north-west London asking if I could adopt a black cat, fully aware of the stigma attached to rehoming them.
They drew my attention to their listing for a curiously wide-eyed feline. The ad warned, ‘Don’t be put off by my spooked expression.’ I said I’d have a look.
That ‘look’ turned into an intense staring match with a remarkably stunned cat. When I eventually blinked first, she trotted over to me, sniffed my hand and rubbed her head against me.
This was Zelda’s way of saying, ‘You’re hired’.
Our relationship got off to a rocky start when I chose to take her home using public transport. Zelda was vocal in her disapproval, attracting many wide-eyed glances from fellow passengers. I’d forgotten how bumpy and loud the Bakerloo line gets.
Upon arrival at her new home, Zelda slowly emerged from her carrier, inspecting every item of furniture in the flat before settling down under the sofa. I offered her words of reassurance and treats while she stared back at me. I sensed she may be calming down, yet her facial expression remained as spooked as ever.
Any faint sounds or movement made her head jolt, her ears twitch and her pupils dilate. It didn’t take long to realise that I was now living with a permanently startled cat.
It was this signature look that inspired the Twitter account. I consistently found Zelda eerily still, gazing into space. Was my flat haunted? Had she foreseen the end of the world?! It seemed like every time I pointed the camera at her, she was mid-existential crisis.
Before I knew it, I was in a routine of posting photos of my cat with quirky captions and poems. Little by little, the likes and comments were increasing.
I’ve never needed to be the centre of attention, and if I can do something that makes even one person happy, that’s plenty. So, it’s a surreal feeling when thousands of people react to something you’ve done.
In this case I’m a grown adult tweeting as my cat. What have I done!?
Virality comes in waves. Not long after that first article, Zelda was featured in the national papers, followed by a host of international news outlets. DMs and mentions were coming in from journalists, collaborators and book publishers.
Zelda’s face was appearing everywhere, including fake ‘Curious Zelda’ accounts. People wanted to be just like me! Well, my cat.
Things got even more exciting when I started getting messages from random friends and family telling me that they’d seen Zelda in the media. I fondly remember my uncle texting me to say that he was listening to BBC Radio 2 and Michael Ball had just mentioned her in one of his quizzes.
Things also got awkward, as my Twitter account surpassed the number of followers of the company I work for.
I didn’t expect this. I rarely post on my own social media accounts, and hardly have a ‘following’ myself. It’s not like I tried to get my cat famous either, rarely using hashtags or mentions in my posts. I wanted something authentic, where any ‘fans’ follow me because they’re genuinely interested in what I’ll post in future.
Going viral wasn’t down to one perfectly timed photo or relevant caption. Zelda has unwittingly developed a persona over several years, which people today recognise and love.
She’s pure, unassuming, and has the courage to chase her dreams (or indeed eat them). I try to be more like Zelda myself, even if we have very different priorities.
It is now normal to see comments on Zelda’s posts from followers using her catchphrases and rhyming style. Some even post their own fan art and photoshop her images.
Because of all the Zelda love, I even have a book now, The Adventures of a Curious Cat! This kind of engagement feels special.
Yet, I know that it can’t be taken for granted as the waves of attention are fleeting. I’m just one of a huge community of owners of unique and amazing pets out there who know how to use a keyboard.
We’re mostly doing the same thing: making social media a happier place. When someone comments to say I’ve cheered them up, that’s what stays with me, and keeps me coming back with new ideas.
I write this with Zelda stood on my lap, unable to settle as she is determined to give me all the wet-nose kisses. She brings me so much joy, and the online account is an extension of it.
After all, in that initial email to my friends, I said I wanted ‘to use it as a creative outlet and have fun with it, maybe get her a bit of internet fame in the process.’
Looking back on our journey, and how those words have materialised, I’m the one who’s startled.
The Adventures of a Curious Cat by Curious Zelda published by Sphere, is out now in paperback
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