By Laura McQuillan*
Who's got two thumbs, an internet connection and a heap of "relentless pawsitivity" to share?
Meet Paddles, the celebrity tweeting cat of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, whose mix of kitty compliments, puns and political sass has drawn many thousands more followers than she can count - even on her extra toes.
Hi, I'm Paddles and I am the First Cat of New Zealand. I have opposable thumbs, I'm purrty special. pic.twitter.com/MPkxdhWCRu— Paddles (@FirstCatofNZ) October 21, 2017
@FirstCatofNZ's tweets have catapulted the ginger and white kitty from the political sidelines to international stardom. She's been featured on a BBC list of political pets and in a Vanity Fair article on Ardern, and her "tech-savvy cat".
The polydactyl puss' meteoric rise to fame has also sparked questions: Is Ardern's partner, TV host Clarke Gayford, behind the Twitter account? Does that mean he's tweeting himself love affirmations?
WTF Paddles?! I KNEW you were pretend sleeping when I just checked.— Clarke Gayford (@NZClarke) October 21, 2017
....There's Snapper in the fridge. pic.twitter.com/BmlQwHl455
And if not Gayford, who?
Sooner or later people are going to work out who is on at the same time as Paddles and know who is behind the account— Wendy Lester (@WendyWings) October 24, 2017
The man running the account (who has chosen to remain anonymous) describes himself as a "PR guy" for Paddles who, he believes, deserves recognition for helping Ardern to political victory.
He spoke exclusively to RNZ about why he created the account, the "really overwhelming" response from fans, and why Paddles won't be critiquing Ardern's policies.
MMP = Meow Meow Purr. Little known fact. Prrp— Paddles (@FirstCatofNZ) October 21, 2017
Hi! I mean, prrp!
A lot of people think that you are Clarke Gayford. Are you?
No, I'm not Clarke Gayford at all.
Then who are you?
I'm just somebody that wants to share in the joy that is Paddles. It's a bit of fun and Paddles is very cute and deserves more attention, which she's quite rightly getting now. To be honest, I'm avoiding going on Twitter on her behalf because it's really overwhelming. Personally, I'm a little jealous, because I've been on Twitter for about five years, and I just hit 1000 followers recently, whereas Paddles had that in less than 24 hours. I'm really happy for her, though.
Why did you decide to become Paddles?
I decided to become her PR man just for a laugh, really, because I didn't think that Paddles was getting the credit that she deserves for her role in the election, and the election of her mum. She's the cat behind the woman.
You've told me you're not a cat person, and you're also not a Labour voter.
I do like animals either way, and I do like Jacinda, and I like how much she loves her cat. It's very cute. I noticed during the campaign she would do Instagram stories and Paddles was in them, and I was just loving that. I don't vote Labour, and I used to be a dog sitter. If I was to be anything, I'd be a dog person but that said, I do believe you don't have to be one or the other.
How does it feel to have this blow up? Paddles is huge.
She's getting the recognition she deserves and she's raising awareness for polydactyl cats, which is great. I didn't even really expect to get more than 20 followers. There's no way I could have predicted it. Purr-dicted it. Sorry, my head is so full of cat puns. Paddles just captures people's imagination, and they like that she's sassy, she's not a sycophant. She loves her mummy, but she's her own cat.
I know you've been tweeting love to Clarke Gayford. Have you heard from Jacinda?
Not yet, although I think mummy's a bit busy.
That's fair. She's got a country to run.
Yeah, she's got a cat to pat as well. Also, Paddles won't be expecting a tweet from Jacinda, because Paddles can just talk to mummy. I mean, I certainly don't tweet my own mum.
Still hungry. I'm a working cat now. Thanks dad you're the best. Sorry everybody thinks you're tweeting for me, when will they learn?! https://t.co/Sa4de1kxHM— Paddles (@FirstCatofNZ) October 26, 2017
People around the world are talking about Jacinda Ardern. Do you think Paddles helps add to that interest?
It certainly looks like it. All the articles have been like 'hey, look at this awesome new PM that New Zealand's got, and just to confirm how cool she is, she's also got this tweeting cat' - which she has nothing to do with. But maybe people see it as symptomatic of how forward-thinking the government has the potential to be.
What's Paddles' message to New Zealanders?
Her first message is 'look at me'. That's patently clear. Paddles is quite wise and quite positive - I think she does spread a message of pawsitivity. That's terrible, I'm such a dad - there's only so many puns you can make with cats. It's a message of relentless pawsitivity. (laughs) She just wants people to like themselves the way she likes herself. That's really at the core of it - being kind to other people and being kind to yourself.
Do you have a favourite of Paddles' parents? Do you think she does?
I think Paddles prefers Clarke - that would only be because she's all about herself and Clarke brings home fish, and she's nuts about fish. This is clear. For me, it's probably Jacinda, just because I'm not as worried about the fish. Jacinda has more impact on my life, Clarke has more impact on Paddles'.
It’s not my fault my cat people love me Dad. Huh my fish bowl is empty, off you go... https://t.co/zzIKnDy4hk— Paddles (@FirstCatofNZ) October 25, 2017
What can we expect from Paddles for the next three years, or even nine years, if it comes to that?
Oh my God, nine years of this. I think Paddles will stick around, she might not be as prolific as she has been in her first week but there's no reason why Paddles won't keep commenting on affairs of national cat importance.
What about controversial issues? Will she stay hands off because she's a cat?
She does have hands, but it's always on a case-by-case basis. She probably won't be commenting on Syria any time soon, because she's just a little, wee cat from the SPCA and that's a pretty big issue for her to be tackling. As a domestic cat, she's more interested in domestic issues.
*Laura McQuillan is an expat Kiwi journalist in Canada. She was formerly a political reporter in New Zealand for Newstalk ZB, RadioLIVE and NZ Newswire.