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James Bowen

Street Cat Bob


James Bowen with Street Cat Bob, London

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In 2007 James Bowen was living in a one-bedroom council flat in north London, recovering from heroin addiction and a life on the streets, and earning a meagre living as a busker (street musician). It was not a very fulfilling existence and his prospects didn't look good. Until ...

Bob makes an appearance

Busker James Bowen with Bob the cat in January 2009 Bob the cat with James Bowen, July 2009 One cold March evening he went home and found an injured and hungry ginger tomcat in the stairwell of his block of flats; it seemed he might have been attacked by a dog, or maybe a fox. James, who says he'd always liked cats, 'spoke to' him and found him friendly, but didn't feel that in the circumstances he could take him in — and anyway he might have belonged to someone. But when the cat was still there 36 hours later he felt he had to act. He took him in, gave him some food and drink and asked around to see if he could find an owner. No one in the neighbourhood claimed the cat, and James could see that he had a nasty abscess on a back leg. So he took him to the RSPCA's Harmsworth Animal Hospital to be treated, spending some of the last of his money at the time on antibiotics. The vet thought he was probably not yet a year old. James felt he then had to keep the animal at least for a couple of weeks to ensure he received his medication and recovered, so off he went to buy some cat food. Then he had to go out with his guitar to try to earn some more cash.
[ The two photos above were both taken in 2009, well before the pair started to become better-known. ]

Bob the cat on a bus in 2009 He continued his busking and Bob, as he was now called — after a character in the TV programme Twin Peaks — would be waiting for him when he returned home. The pair gradually got to know each other, and James was finding that Bob, although certainly not perfect, was quite special. It didn't seem as though he was, or had been, a house cat and he insisted on doing his toileting outdoors. James was still thinking that when he had regained his health, Bob would want to move on. Bob, as his condition continued to improve, had other ideas, though! When James left to go busking, the cat would try to follow, despite his best efforts to send him home. Eventually he gave in.

Bob goes busking

Bob the Big Issue cat with James Bowen on the No. 73 bus, mid-2011 James and Bob the cat busking at Christmas-time 2011 To cut a long story short, Bob started to accompany James, travelling on his shoulder on the busy London streets, on buses and the Underground. While James was playing his guitar and singing, Bob would calmly sit on his bag, or in the guitar case, with remarkable poise and equanimity. The effect on the day's takings was dramatic; as James put it, the cat made him cease to be 'invisible', as people stopped to chat, stroke Bob and take photographs. As time went on, Bob gained a proper harness and lead for his safety, he was neutered and microchipped — and became a very important part of James' life. 'He's what I wake up for every day now,' says James.

Bob the Big Issue cat, outside the Angel Underground station, Islington Big Issue seller James Bowen with Bob the cat The Oyster card given to Mr Bob Cat by Transport for London All went well until during 2008 it became obvious to James that he couldn't continue to make a living from his street performances; he'd been in trouble for performing where he shouldn't, had warnings from the police and knew he'd be in real trouble if he offended again. He therefore applied to become a Big Issue seller, and was accepted — it was something he'd done previously for a short time. It's a weekly street newspaper, written by professional journalists and sold in several countries of the world by homeless or similarly disadvantaged people; they buy the papers themselves and sell them at a profit, giving them a chance to improve their situation. Sellers have to be registered, and each usually has a particular spot, or 'pitch', where they are to be found in their town or city. James' usual spots were near entrances to the Underground ('Tube') stations at Angel, Islington and at Covent Garden. Because of Bob's popularity at the Underground stations and his frequent travels around London, Transport for London presented him with his very own special Oyster card. (Oyster is a plastic smartcard you can use instead of paper tickets by putting pay-as-you-go credit on it —Ed.)

Bob the Big Issue cat with James Bowen outside the Angel tube station, Islington Bob the Big Issue cat, outside the Angel station, Islington in 2010 Bob the cat and James Bowen, Oct 2011 Bob the cat and James Bowen, Neal Street, Covent Garden, Dec 2011 James and Bob, Covent Garden, Jan 2012 Bob the cat and James Bowen, Covent Garden, Jan 2012

The books and TV

The bestselling book A Street Cat Named Bob, published March 2012 Bob: No Ordinary Cat, published Feb 2013 The World According To Bob, published Jul 2013 As before, Bob continued to accompany James, and there's no doubt he helped to improve Big Issue sales. The unusual pair started to feature on the internet. One day one of the people who saw them at their pitch was Mary Pachnos, a literary agent who had previously acted as the UK agent for Marley and Me, a book about a mischievous dog who forms a special bond with his human family. She thought that James and Bob's story, and their unique relationship, would also make good book material. The rest, to quote an oft-used saying, is history! A book deal was agreed during 2011, and in 2012 A Street Cat Named Bob was published by Hodder and Stoughton (outer left, and also see details and our review in Folios). Its success was immediate and almost worldwide, and it's been translated into almost 30 languages; a children's version followed the adult book (inner left). In 2013 a second book appeared, The World According to Bob (right), and looks set to also sell very well; sales of the two books together have already reached a million — and the first one wasn't released in the United States until July 2013.

Book signing for A Street Cat Named Bob at Waterstones, Islington Green, Mar 2012 Street Cat Bob at the Waterstones book signing, March 2012 Street Cat Bob and James Bowen on the BBC Breakfast TV show, 2012 and 2013 Book signings — with Bob, of course — became very popular in London (left); the cat takes it all in his stride, although more recently James has banned flash photography from these occasions, and stopped everyone petting Bob, as he was getting a little stressed by these things. A nice idea has been the website Around the World in 80 Bobs, showing the book against backgrounds of places where it's been read.

Street Cat Bob high-fiving with James There have been several appearances on national TV in the UK, in which Bob sits calmly next to James, as good as gold (above right): one example is ITV's This Morning (Apr 2012) where Bob's seen wearing a scarf; he now has a huge wardrobe of scarves that admirers have sent in for him, many of them knitted specially. Another of his trademarks is that James has taught him to 'high five' with one of his paws when James holds up his hand.

Street Cat Bob and James Bowen attending ITV's British Animal Honours award ceremony, where Bob was awarded the Tails of the Unexpected honour, Apr 2013 Street Cat Bob wearing his British Animal Honours medal, Apr 2013 In April 2013 Bob (with James) attended the televised British Animal Honours, which celebrate the achievements of the country's most extraordinary animals and the people who work with them. He was awarded the 'Tails of the Unexpected' Honour (right), a special award given to an exceptional animal or individual that falls outside of the regular honours categories.

Charity work

Street Cat Bob with a teapot which was auctioned in aid of the Blue Cross animal charity, May 2013 James Bowen signing the teapot auctioned on eBay in support of Blue Cross, May 2013 Street Cat Bob and James Bowen support the Blue Cross, Jun 2012 Naturally there's a huge internet presence now, with an avidly followed Facebook page and also a Twitter account. On the home front, James said that 2012 had totally changed his and Bob's lives, and so in 2013 he wanted to start repaying some of those who had helped them to transform their fortunes. In particular he chose Blue Cross (right), the charity that had regularly treated and supported Bob in the past, when times were hard for him and for James, and that every year makes a difference for thousands of other cats, dogs and other pets. A campaign was opened at JustGiving where anyone could make a donation to the charity, and it was successful to the tune of over £21,000. In addition, and as some other celebrities have done in the past, James — with Bob's assistance, of course — helped to paint a special teapot cleverly featuring Bob's portrait and signed by the two of them (left). The pot was auctioned on eBay and raised £680 (around 1000 US dollars at the time) for Blue Cross.

The future

Street Cat Bob and James Bowen, London, July 2013 Bob the cat and James Bowen, London, July 2013 There are plans for two further children's books, but so far not another adult one. An exciting possibility is a Hollywood film, but nothing definite has yet been decided about that; if it came to fruition there would be the prospect of a trip to the States for the pair. Earlier James said that he wanted to renovate his London flat, but more recently he's spoken of leaving London and finding a home for Bob and himself in the country. One idea James mentioned earlier was to register Bob as a Care in the Community animal, so he could take him to old people's homes and care centres. 'Animals are great for calming the spirit when you're stressed,' he explains. 'Bob certainly helped me in that way, and I'd like to help other people in that way too. Maybe I'd have to take some courses in community care or something like that.'

Whatever happens, it's been an absolutely amazing time for James; he says that he no longer needs to go busking or selling The Big Issue — and he doesn't hesitate to put it all down to the ginger cat who entered his life in 2007!

Bob the Big Issue cat, Jan 2011 Street Cat Bob wearing one of his many scarves, Jan 2013 Street Cat Bob and James Bowen, London, Apr 2012 Street Cat Bob getting a treat, Nov 2012 Street Cat Bob


Bob the cat and James Bowen supporting the Sumatran tigers at London Zoo, March 2013 Late 2013: Following the success of his books James has been able to give up busking and selling the Big Issue, and much of his and Bob's time is devoted to book signings and charity work. By mid-December 2013 the target figure of £20,000 (around 33,000 US dollars) for the Blue Cross had been reached via the JustGiving site mentioned above — a great achievement! Earlier in the year an event we didn't hear much about was a scheme run by ZSL (London Zoo) to raise money to buy giant toys for the zoo's Sumatran tigers, Jae Jae and Melati, to play with in their new Tiger Territory, opened in the same month by the Duke of Edinburgh. It seems that certain well-known cats were given tiger toys to play with, publicity shots were taken and then the toys and 'pawtographed' photos were auctioned on eBay. Downing Street Larry was one cat that took part, and Bob was another — in fact he raised the largest amount.

March 2014: It was reported that total sales of James' books in the United Kingdom had reached a million — a figure that few authors achieve. 'It's incredible,' he said. 'When I first saw Bob on the doorstep, I never thought this is where I'd be today.' There's an interesting article in the Guardian.

Street Cat Bob in The Big Issue, July 2014 September 2014: A wheel turned full circle in July when Bob was featured in The Big Issue with his photo on the front cover. A signed copy was auctioned in aid of the charity, and at the JustGiving site James and Bob continue to raise funds for other causes: to donate visit either James's page where an appeal has been running in support of Cats Protection, or Bob's page where an appeal was launched recently for a dogs' home at Manchester, a large part of which had been destroyed by fire.
In September James announced a new website for him and Bob, and in October another book will be published, A Gift from Bob.

Links and further reading

Numerous clips of James and Bob can be found at YouTube, but here's a small selection:

At Vimeo, a great clip using time lapse photography, of a drawing of Bob and James being created by artist Amie Hill: James and Street Cat Bob - Time Lapse in Coloured Pencil (Aug 2013).

For many of the images used on this page we acknowledge and warmly thank Flickr users. By taking the following links to the originals these photos can be seen full-sized with dates, and sometimes a little further detail and/or additional shots: Harry Mitchell : : acb : Dan Chippendale : Stuff n Nonsense (via Annie Mole) : Bernie Lampert : Annie Mole : Maja Kucova : Bessandra : Fabio Lugaro : jayninety : bobsmithgl100 : Gavin Mills : wedding dress fashion : Paul Riley : Leo Reynolds : Elena Alhimovich.
There's also a group pool at Flickr dedicated to James and Bob where many more images can be seen.

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Our featured feline at the head of the page is Simon of HMS Amethyst.
He remains the only cat ever to have been awarded the Dickin Medal for gallantry under enemy fire,
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