James Bowen is an author and musician currently based in London. He is author of A Street Cat Named Bob, which tells his life story.
James Bowen was born in Surrey in 1979. Following his parents’ divorce, he moved to Australia with his mother and stepfather. Home life was tense and, because the family moved frequently, James was unsettled at school. He was frequently bullied, and began sniffing glue while still in education, becoming a self-confessed “tearaway kid” who would later be diagnosed with ADHD, schizophrenia and manic depression. In 1997 he returned to the UK and lived with his half-sister, but this arrangement did not last; in time, he became homeless and began sleeping on the streets. From this point, James spent almost 10 years either sleeping rough or staying briefly in charity-run shelters; it was during this time that he began to use heroin in an attempt to escape the realities of homelessness.
In Spring 2007, James was enrolled on a methadone programme, busking in Covent Garden, and living in sheltered accommodation in Tottenham. One evening he returned home to find a ginger cat in the hallway of his building; assuming it belonged to another resident, he simply returned to his flat. When the cat was still there the following day, and the day after that, James became concerned and discovered the cat was wearing no collar or ID tag, and had an infected wound on his leg. James checked with other residents to see if the stray belonged to any of them, and when none of them claimed ownership of the animal James decided to help the cat himself.
He took the cat to a nearby veterinary surgery run by an animal charity, which provided antibiotics to treat the infected wound. In order to make sure he received the full two-week course of medication, James decided to take him in for a time while he continued to look for the stray’s owner. When he couldn’t find any information, he released the cat back on to the street, hoping he’d find his own way home. Instead, he began to follow James around, even following him onto the bus when he left to go busking. Concerned that the cat had nowhere else to go, James took him in on a permanent basis, naming him Bob after a character from the television drama Twin Peaks.
Since Bob seemed keen to accompany James to work, he constructed a harness from shoelaces and began to bring him along to his regular spots in Covent Garden and Piccadilly, travelling in the window seat of the number 73 bus. The public reaction was positive and the pair became popular, their visibility increasing still further when James began selling the Big Issue. Soon the public began uploading videos of James and Bob to YouTube, and tourists from across the world would visit Covent Garden to see them. During this time, James decided to withdraw the methadone treatment; he credits his success to Bob, saying “I believe it came down to this little man. He came and asked me for help, and he needed me more than I needed to abuse my own body. He is what I wake up for every day now... he’s definitely given me the right direction to live my life.”
In time, James and Bob’s public appearances attracted the attention of Mary Pachnos, the literary agent responsible for the UK rights to John Grogan’s Marley and Me, who secured the pair a book deal with the publishers Hodder & Stoughton after she heard their story. The book was co-written by Garry Jenkins, and since its publication has sold over 250,000 copies, been translated into 22 languages and spent over 45 weeks at the top of the Sunday Times’ bestseller list in both its hardback and paperback format.