Meet Bob the street cat and the home­less man he saved

When James Bowen res­cued a cat named Bob, he also found his own saviour. Chrissy Iley meets the duo who are the sub­ject of a new movie.

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -

Bob the cat is pos­si­bly the world’s most fa­mous fe­line – at least, he’s the only street cat to have had his chin stroked by the Duchess of Cam­bridge. He’s a Lon­doner who also has a spe­cial con­nec­tion closer to home, since his best friend, James Bowen, was raised in Australia.

He is the sub­ject of James’ best-sell­ing book,

A Street Cat Named Bob, which has sold more than five mil­lion copies and been made into a film – in which Bob plays him­self – and it is a gor­geous movie, not so much cutesy, but gutsy.

It’s the story of James Bowen, re­cov­er­ing heroin ad­dict, home­less street busker and street-seller of The Big Is­sue mag­a­zine, whose life changed when the stray gin­ger cat be­friended him.

James spent his last £28 on an­tibi­otics for a wound on Bob’s leg and Bob re­paid him a hun­dred­fold. One day, he jumped on the bus to fol­low James to his busk­ing spot at Lon­don’s Covent Gar­den Pi­azza, where James would sing Nir­vana songs to bored passers-by. Once Bob was in on the act, the pun­ters were en­chanted by his en­dear­ing tricks. Then James and Bob were spot­ted by a lit­er­ary agent who had worked on Mar­ley & Me and, with the sales of the book,

Bob bought James a house.

To­day, we meet in Lon­don’s Soho Ho­tel. James is shy and gen­tle, wear­ing com­bat trousers and lots of bracelets and beads. Bob is wear­ing a minia­ture Dr Who scarf, which some­one knit­ted him and he wore in the film.

His gin­ger coat is lus­trous, his fat cheeks adorable and his pierc­ing green eyes mes­meris­ing. He’s fear­less, prowl­ing around his suite. You can’t take your eyes off him – he re­ally is a spe­cial cat.

Bob sits on his cush­ion. He’s a well-prac­tised in­ter­vie­wee, no stranger to pub­lic­ity. The book lit­er­ally changed their lives, “from day one with the book re­ally,” says James. “The pop­u­lar­ity of Bob when we were sell­ing The Big Is­sue meant that we had to move out of cen­tral Lon­don be­cause we were killing it for the other ven­dors.

“We moved to An­gel [Tube] sta­tion and if we hadn’t moved there, you wouldn’t be talk­ing to me now be­cause that’s where I met my agent.”

Since the film came out, Bob has been ac­cused of start­ing a gin­ger cat kid­nap­ping racket. Gin­ger cats are now so pop­u­lar, you can’t find them. “He’s so in­tel­li­gent, a lit­tle man in a gin­ger suit,”

says James. Bob nods and then gives me a pierc­ing stare. “The Duchess of Cam­bridge was very ex­cited to meet him and very lovely, very down-to-earth,” says James. “She was at­tend­ing [the movie premiere] in sup­port of one of her char­i­ties, Ac­tion on Ad­dic­tion. Bob was a bit tired that day, but he didn’t mind her giv­ing him a lit­tle scratch be­hind the ears. He was sort of grum­bling and purring at the same time, but he’s very gen­tle­manly and would never let on to a royal that he was tired.”

For James, the film shows the real side of ad­dic­tion. “I said to the di­rec­tor, I don’t want this played in a satir­i­cal way like Trainspot­ting

– no silly hal­lu­ci­na­tions. There are so many other as­pects to it and I wanted to get over the fact that the pain is re­lent­less.” In­deed, the film shows the gru­elling side of James us­ing methadone to kick his heroin ad­dic­tion. The story is how man saved cat and cat saved man.

So how did Bob get to play him­self in the movie? “He was never sup­posed to be in­volved in the film,” says James. “But they wanted to do one scene of the real Bob, so they shot him on one of Luke Tread­away’s [who plays James Bowen] shoul­ders. I kept Bob’s at­ten­tion to the lens as they walked with the Steadicam and he was re­ally good.

“Then, later on, Luke was shoot­ing busk­ing scenes and the di­rec­tor asked if Bob could sit on his shoul­ders and be there for the busk­ing. Bob knew the busk­ing reg­i­men. A few coins were al­ready in front of him. He sat on the jacket, lis­tened to the gui­tar and, as more coins were be­ing thrown down, Bob would look up as if to say, ‘Cheers, thanks.’ And the look on the di­rec­tor’s face was price­less.”

The di­rec­tor, Roger Spot­tis­woode, couldn’t train ac­tor cats to do this as they had no knowl­edge of busk­ing or shoul­der rid­ing.

“It’s a Hol­ly­wood first,” says James.

Was it weird for James be­ing on set and watch­ing Luke Tread­away play scenes from his own life? “We went round to Luke’s to spend an hour talk­ing about what it was like be­ing me, but six hours later, we were still jam­ming and chat­ting. It was strange for him to be me, but some­how it felt quite nat­u­ral for me. We have be­come re­ally good mates.”

Bob does have a pass­port, but he won’t be go­ing to the Aus­tralian film open­ing (the movie opens in New Zealand on March 9) be­cause of the strict quar­an­tine laws.

James was born in Eng­land, but his par­ents split when he was three and he moved to Australia with his mother, where he spent his child­hood years.

“My un­cle di­rected Home and Away for 15 years,” James says, proudly, so he thinks the film busi­ness is in his blood. He moved around a lot, from Perth to Mel­bourne and Bridgetown, Western Australia, but never felt he fit­ted in.

So, at 18, he re­turned to Eng­land, but it was harder than he ex­pected and that’s how he ended up on the streets and ad­dicted to drugs.

James’ life has com­pletely changed now, but he doesn’t take any­thing for granted. He and Bob have been in­vited to Ja­pan and South Korea. I tell him that I’m wor­ried about Bob trav­el­ling but he says Bob can hold his own. “He can be a very de­fen­sive lit­tle man. Once, I had some­one try­ing to rob me when I was busk­ing. He sensed him com­ing up be­hind me and, as soon as this guy reached into my ruck­sack, Bob turned around and went wham – slapped him across his face, big stripes across this guy’s face. I don’t have to worry about that any more. Bob res­cued me. I didn’t know it at the time, but he took me from ex­ist­ing to ac­tu­ally hav­ing a life.”

What les­sons does James think that he and

Bob have learnt from each other? “He gave me a rea­son to live,” he says. “I was 27 when I met him and sick of life. He gave me that sec­ond chance. I’ve never had kids, so he is my baby, re­ally, and I taught Bob to trust in me. He has also learnt that Daddy takes care of him be­cause he takes care of me. He’s cer­tainly got us where we are to­day.”

Bob res­cued me. He took me from ex­ist­ing to hav­ing a life.

ABOVE: Bob the street cat, “a lit­tle man in a gin­ger suit”, with his best friend, James Bowen.

BE­LOW LEFT: Bob mak­ing friends with the Duchess of Cam­bridge at the Lon­don premiere of the movie in Novem­ber. RIGHT: James and Bob at Is­ling­ton Green, Lon­don, where they used to sell The Big Is­sue.

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