In 2007, a man met a cat. Sounds simple, but so began a quite wonderful journey. Fast forward to 2015 and James Bowen and his feline friend Bob are stars and now hoping to open their very own cat café…
How has the relationship between you two changed over time – or is it the same as you delightfully expressed in A Street Cat Named Bob?
We are still best mates. He’s a little bit more of a diva now. He definitely plays for the camera, as you can see. He’s so intelligent. When we are on TV he watches himself back on the playback monitors, there are clips of him doing it on YouTube. I had to put child locks on the cupboards and the fridge as Bob helps himself. We get so many gifts and treats, we divide them up and send them to animal charities, much to his distaste. He’s like ‘they are mine’, but if we were to pour them into a bathtub they’d fill it.
Pretty much my life now is about trying to raise awareness. We are going to start a cat café soon, which will be for rescued stray cats that people can come in and spend time with them, and we will also be offering training seminars on animal welfare and we will be hopefully in conjunction with people like the Blue Cross and the RSPCA to help people get their cats neutered if they are on low income, raise awareness of how that can help to increase a cat’s healthiness, happiness and life span. A domestic house cat is not happy when it’s not neutered, they want to go out and fight all the time. The screenwriter for the film is hopefully going to be investing in it as a partner for the company. It’s not just going to be by myself. It’s being able to put our name to helping other people and animals.
You mention the film. How are things going with that?
I believe they are in pre-production at the moment. I don’t have any names to give you with regards to who is playing me. There have been a whole list of people and I have been misquoted a few times, so I am not going down that route again. Bob will be playing himself for close-ups, but for stunt scenes they have trained cats who will run in certain directions on command. I will probably have to stand next to the actor for the close-up shots so Bob is happy to sit on their shoulder.
The trailer is now out! Watch it below…
I remember to this day seeing you two for the first time outside Angel Tube… Did you realise quite quickly the impact you had on Angel locals?
Most vendors don’t like to work at Tube stations because everyone is just flying straight through, they haven’t got time to pay attention, but Bob obviously made people stop, so I could interact with the customers. We built a very loyal fanbase from that, so we had our regulars every week and people who brought us a cup of tea or coffee and a sandwich, which was really good because when you are on benefits you do struggle a lot.
It was really that fanbase that helped to launch the first book, because we did launch it in Angel. We did the book on 13 March  and I couldn’t believe when I saw how many hundreds of people were packed around the block. I don’t think even the publishers were expecting the wild reaction. We went straight into writing a sequel because of the high demand for it. When it hit 64 weeks in the top ten it was just incredible.
What was going through your head when you realised how big you and Bob had become?
It was a shock. You know that you have made it when they do a caricature cartoon of you in The Sunday Times. It’s a Street Cat Named Bob all skinny, the next one Bob No Ordinary Cat, the young adaptation, and he’s sitting there having a publisher’s lunch, and then the third one The World According to Bob he’s really fat, and the next picture is me trying to push him through the catflap he’s so huge. It’s that moment that crystallises I am leading a different life. I can’t go out busking now, even if I had to I couldn’t do it now because I would cause a traffic hazard. It’s good to know I don’t have to do that again – I just want to make it easier for those that do still do it.
How did it feel to initially write your story?
I found it was very therapeutic. People pay to go to a psychiatrist, I was being paid to write my life down. I found it very therapeutic to be able to get that off my chest. A lot of people don’t understand the differences between the whole class divide. It was great to say not everybody who is selling The Big Issue or is homeless should be bunged in the same boat, which is what generally happens. So it was a great opportunity to explain my side of my life, where I had come from, how I ended up in my situation. Yes, it was completely my own doing, but it could happen to anyone. It was a great release writing that book.
Are you still living in North London?
Yes, I’m still there. I have just bought my own house… Bought my own house. Gone from living in supported housing to having bought my own house. It’s thanks to all the people who have bought our books that I have been able to do that. I owe every single person who has bought one of our books or ten to give to their family, I owe them all. It’s incredible.
Do you still have to pinch yourself that you’re doing interviews like this?
Every morning! I wake up and think who am I, what the hell is going on? I owe it all to this little man here. He’s the catalyst – catalyst – for change in my life.
What kind of fan mail do you get?
I get people asking for pictures of Bob, people wanting us to sign the books, people send paintings they have done, they send food, different things from all over the world. Bob is a superstar in Germany – everybody in Germany must have at least two of my books, they always seem to be in the charts!
Words: Mark Kebble / Photos: Anton