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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 were several appearances on national TV in the UK, in which Bob sat calmly next to James, as good as gold (above right): one example was 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 avidly followed social media pages — see the links below. 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


Late 2013
Bob the cat and James Bowen supporting the Sumatran tigers at London Zoo, March 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.

September 2014
Street Cat Bob in The Big Issue, July 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. James and Bob continue to raise funds for other causes such as Cats Protection and also an appeal for a dogs' home at Manchester, a large part of which had been destroyed by fire. In October another book will be published, A Gift from Bob.

February 2017
Since our last update James and Bob have become firmly established as 'celebrities': quite a remarkable change in fortunes for a former drug addict and a stray cat! James's original book has been translated into over 40 languages. As well as the sequel book, The World According to Bob, there have been four children's books, a picture book that was a spin-off from the blog Around the World in 80 Bobs, and then A Gift from Bob, which is a short story about Bowen and Bob's final Christmas on the streets together. Worldwide sales of books stand at more than five million.

There was an ambitious project to set up a cat café in London to help homeless cats; a fund was launched and the target exceeded with donations from fans and supporters. However, the practicalities of actually finding a suitable site and then dealing with all the myriad regulations that would have been required to get the scheme off the ground seem to have overcome the initial enthusiasm, and it has been admitted that it will probably not happen. Money remaining will be given to other charities. More can be read at the Daily Mail.

Much more successful was the plan to shoot a movie based on James and Bob's experiences. This came to fruition in 2016, opening to good reviews following a London première at the Curzon, Mayfair in early November that was attended by Kate, Duchess of Cambridge. The part of James was played by Luke Treadaway. The original plan was to use 'Bob-alikes' in the form of six specially trained acting cats from a top animal trainer in Canada — but Bob had other ideas! He stole the show while one scene was being filmed in his familiar territory of Covent Garden, and from then on it was decided he would play himself in as many scenes as possible, while the look-alikes would perform the more dangerous scenes, such as being pursued by a large dog. More about the filming, as related by James, can be seen at The Big Issue and there's a TV interview including Luke at YouTube.

Film poster for A Street Cat Named Bob Bob on set with Luke Treadaway and director Roger Spottiswoode, London, late 2015 Street cat Bob and James Bowen at the premiere of the film, 3 Nov 2016, Curzon cinema, London World premiere of the film A Street Cat Named Bob at the Curzon cinema, Mayfair, London, 3 Nov 2016 Kate, Duchess of Cornwall, meets street cat Bob at the film premiere in London, 3 Nov 2016 Street cat Bob with the Duchess of Cornwall, premiere, 3 Nov 2016 Street cat Bob and James Bowen at the film screening in Berlin, Dec 2016

Following the film James was doing some touring around the UK, with Bob, to promote it: Bob is now quite a seasoned traveller with his specially designed cat carrier, as he has accompanied James to book-signing events in various cities. He has even been abroad, to the Netherlands and twice to Germany, first promoting books and more recently the film. It's possible he might at some time visit the United States. Meanwhile James continues his charity work at home, notably for homeless people and for animal charities.

Late 2019
Bob has been in semi-retirement of late, living with James and his two other cats, and more recently also with James' fiancée Monika and her own cat. He's adapted to his new living arrangements 'surprisingly well', says James. But the big news is that a second film, A Gift from Bob, is in production and is expected to be in cinemas in time for Christmas 2020, Although trained Bob look-alikes will be used for many scenes, the old trouper will be making some appearances himself.

June 2020
Tragedy struck in mid-June 2020. Although Bob was an indoor cat — but with his own 'catio' and he was often taken out to the park on a lead by James — one Saturday he disappeared, having somehow and for some reason got out. James and Monika were totally distraught and spent a miserable weekend searching for him, to no avail. But on the Monday there was a phone call from a vet not far away, to say Bob had been found and brought in — but was dead. He'd been struck by a car and had died instantly.

James was absolutely heartbroken, and it took some days before he felt able to report to his fans the manner of Bob's death. Messages of condolence and sympathy poured in in their thousands from all over the world, such was Bob's fame and the extent to which his and James' story had touched people. Why Bob decided to go out will never be known; however, he did have quite advanced kidney disease and, although it was being treated and he should have had a year or two more, it's conceivable he felt his time had come and went off to die, as animals are known sometimes to do. Whatever the reason, it was a sad and tragic end to one of the most famous cats of recent times. He was thought to be about 14 years old.

Ironically, it was a few weeks earlier that James had decided to take in two more kittens, and by late June they were ready to join him. He said, 'They are adorable; I'm just sad that Bob won't get to meet them.' They probably helped him through the grieving for Bob, who will certainly never be forgotten by James. 'He saved my life; it's as simple as that,' he said. The kittens, called Bandit and Gizmo are thriving. They now have their own Facebook page.

The second film featuring Bob and James, A Christmas Gift from Bob, was released before Christmas 2020, with filming having been completed before Bob's death, although the first screening was delayed by coronavirus restrictions. Meanwhile James was raising funds for a permanent memorial to Bob, at a location to be decided with local officials, but probably opposite the Waterstone's shop in Islington where he and Bob did book signings. The plan seems to be for a statue of Bob and a memorial bench.

July 2021: The memorial to Bob
Following Bob's tragic and unexpected death in June 2020, James was determined that if possible there should be a permanent memorial. Appealing to Bob�s many thousands of fans from far and wide, he set about a crowd-funding campaign. The money — I believe well in excess of £100,000 — was raised remarkably quickly. James felt that the most appropriate location would be at Islington Green, a small green area in the borough of Islington, which is directly north of the City of London. The significance of it to Bob is that it's directly opposite the Waterstone's bookshop where James and Bob first began work on their book, and where they later did their first and many subsequent book-signings. It's also near the Angel tube station, where the pair first became well-known when James was selling the Big Issue.

Permission for the memorial was granted by the borough council, and so work was able to begin. The sculptor was Tanya Russell, an experienced animal sculptor. She said: 'Bob and James's story has inspired adults and children all around the world with its heart-warming theme of getting a second chance. James now dedicates his time to helping numerous charities, involving homelessness, literacy and animal welfare. It was a huge privilege to be able to attempt to capture the memory of Bob for James and all Bob's fans, and I'm grateful to Islington Council who worked so hard to make the public sculpture of Bob possible.'

Street Cat Bob's statue and granite bench, Islington Green, London - July 2021 James Bowen with the statue of Street Cat Bob at its unveiling, Islington Green, London - July 2021 Closeup of Street Cat Bob's statue, Islington Green, London - July 2021

The bronze statue of Bob, in typical pose with one of his trademark scarves round his neck, sits next to a stone memorial bench, with the inscription, 'He is my companion, my best friend, my teacher and my soulmate. And he will remain all of those things. Always.' A wooden bench is placed at each side of the central display. The memorial was unveiled in mid-July 2021, but with limited public access because of coronavirus restrictions. See live coverage of the event in this Facebook clip, and there's a Big Issue article covering the unveiling here. The Art UK site also has nearly a dozen excellent images in a slideshow. The sculptor, Tanya Russell, has a page about her commission to produce Bob's likeness, which includes a lovely short film showing the process of making the bronze statue. Another of her pages has views from all angles of a miniature version of the statue, available to buy in either bronze resin or foundry bronze.

Links and further reading

Other pages (certain links go to Internet Archive copies if a page is no longer available at the original site)

Numerous early-ish 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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