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Early in 2007 a rather scruffy-looking ginger-and-white cat with no collar and a torn ear was spotted wandering near Olympic House (left), the main office block at Manchester Airport, one of the UK's busiest. However, despite his down-and-out appearance office workers and air stewardesses fell in love with him and named him Olly, after Olympic House. It wasn't long before he appeared on the internet, gained a Facebook page and even started to receive food parcels from admirers in places as far away as New York, Chicago and Paris!
Airport staff clubbed together to buy him his own 'executive lounge' a luxury cat-box. Bob Molloy, a receptionist at Olympic House, said: 'Air crews give him a feed early in the morning, and staff from the airport and its service partners look after him throughout the day. He's a big talking point around here; everyone likes him.' Some workers even went in on their day off to feed him. Hazel Williams, who also worked on the reception desk, added: 'He's a very special cat and a lucky one, too.' Staff from several companies who work at the airport even the sandwich delivery man all helped to make Olly's days more comfortable.
In 2008 it emerged that bosses were considering moving the cat on but hundreds of people signed a petition to keep Olly at the airport, with supporters from as far afield as New Zealand and Kuwait voicing their anger at the rumour. Management eventually decided to grant the much loved moggy a permanent visa to stay.
However the following year, in October 2009, a routine visit to the vet revealed that Olly was actually female! Bob said, 'We were completely shocked when we found out and just couldn't believe it. We thought it was a bit unfair to carry on calling her Olly, so we changed her name to Olivia. Since we found out, we've heard all the jokes from staff and some of them say we shouldn't be surprised, as she's always been a bit of a diva. The funniest thing is we actually think her character seems to have altered since we found out she's much more loving and seems to be showing her maternal side more.' Hazel said Olly's new identity had taken staff by surprise, but if anything it had added to her appeal. She said, 'Every day we get people coming in to leave gifts for Olivia. The other week someone had been fishing and brought in a whole mackerel, which they had even cooked for her. It's incredible how well loved she is, and we're already expecting people to start leaving Christmas presents for her.' And an unknown admirer even sent her postcards from holiday destinations (right). [We continue to refer to Olivia as 'Olly' in this account, as she was still widely referred to by that nameEd.]
In July 2011 airport bosses said that Olly would, finally, have to be found a new home away from the airport. They said they had no option but to move her because of building work that was due to take place shortly at Olympic House the airport's main office block, between Terminals One and Three. Olly by then lived in a cat kennel just outside the office entrance and bosses said she would be disturbed by refurbishment work in the reception area. A spokesman said they had consulted a local animal sanctuary and the RSPCA, and both had recommended she be found a new home. Other options were considered, such as 'retiring' her to the airport's runway visitor park but the site was deemed unsuitable as she was ageing and would need to move again within a couple of years; and they also thought about finding her temporary accommodation until the work was complete, but the animal welfare experts said that would be too unsettling.
The advice was therefore taken to permanently relocate Olly to a home where she wouldn't be disturbed again. It was reported that she had been found a comfortable retirement home at an undisclosed location in south Manchester a Facebook comment at the end of July noted that 'they moved her during the night when no one was about' so she effectively retired from public life.
Earlier the same year the low cost airline BMIbaby had instigated on its Facebook page an online competition to name one of their planes, inviting suggestions from holidaymakers: the name had to end with 'Baby'. Inundated with entries, the resulting shortlist included 'Olly Cat Baby' after the airport moggy. Olly's friends at Olympic House mobilised support via Twitter and Facebook campaigns to rally votes, and her name was the runaway winner. It was added just below the plane's cockpit, and carried to destinations all over Europe. Little more than a year later in May 2012, however, the takeover of BMIbaby was announced, with the last flight scheduled for the following September. It therefore seems unlikely that the aircraft will still carry Olly's name today, but the photo (right) dates from October 2011 when it was present (courtesy Alain Durand: see it full size at Flickr).
Olly has a personal page at Facebook which was begun during her time at Olympic House, and possibly still has some activity in 2013. When the powers that be decreed in mid-2011 that Olly must be relocated, a separate Facebook group, Bring Olly back to MAN!, was formed to campaign for Olly's return. It wasn't successful, but in October of that year a message was posted on her behalf: 'To all my friends, do not fear I am very well, living a life of luxury and undertaking some select security cat duties. Have taken to indoor living like a duck to water. Enjoy sleeping on knees, sofas, chairs and the bed. Totally spoiled and I am loving it. In other words... sorted. xxx.' The welcome news of Olly's new and happy home life seemed to be borne out by a photo posted to her page at Christmas 2012 (left), although no further information was provided.
• Video clip: Olly: Manchester Airport Cat.
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Our featured feline at the head of the page is Socks, pictured in 2003 surveying his 'estate' in the early morning sunshine. Affectionately known as Soxy, he blossomed from a thin and hungry stray into a substantial and handsome cat who loved life and company, and his gentle ways endeared him to many friends. He is now no longer with us, but you can read more from his human companion here.
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