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‘I dread to think where I would be without Bob the cat’

Street cat’s owner pays an emotional return to Green for unveiling of statue

16 July, 2021 — By Helen Chapman

James Bowen with the Bob statue at Islington Green

WHEN the Tribune first reported the remarkable tale of a Big Issue seller’s street cat sidekick, we predicted it was only a matter of time before it was turned into a film.

We were only half joking but 10 years on from that very first article and Bob the cat’s story has now been told in a series of books and two movies. And yesterday (Thursday), the borough’s favourite feline was immortalised with a statue in Islington Green, a year after his death in a road accident.

Described as “soulmates”, James Bowen and his ginger cat Bob were first spotted by our former reporter Peter Gruner outside Angel station, with Mr Bowen selling the Big Issue and Bob on his shoulder.

He said: “I was homeless, I was a heroin addict and I moved into some supported housing in north London. Bob turned up in my hallway and he needed my help.

“Little did I know, taking him in and spending the last that I had on his healthcare would lead us to travelling the world and writing books that were important in helping educate people in the plights of homelessness, animal welfare and all sorts of things I never knew I would become an ambassador for with Bob by my side, on my shoulder.”

Mr Bowen with Cllr Rowena Champion

He added: “If Bob hadn’t been there, I don’t think the message would have been so prevalent. He came to us with a mission and he certainly achieved it. It was an honour to have been Bob’s protector and to keep that message going.”

The unveiling of the statue saw crowds gather to see the monument. It has Bob sitting on top of a pile of books, on the arm of a pink and grey granite bench with the quote: “He is my companion, my best friend, my teacher and my soulmate. And he will remain all of those things. Always.”

Mr Bowen, who became teary at the unveiling, said about Bob’s death: “It was devastating and still very raw today, a year on.”

Mr Bowen got a book deal after a publisher saw his story in the Tribune all those years ago and he has repeatedly thanked the paper for featuring him.

Mr Bowen now lives in south London and is planning to make a documentary about sleeping rough in different cities. He is also in a band and has released a song called Ballad for Bob.

Mark Bossley with James Bowen

Mr Bowen, who brought along Bob’s ashes in an urn at the unveiling event, said: “I suspect I will spend a lot more time back in this park like I did back when Bob was with me. It has come a full circle. It feels weird for me – today feels very cathartic. He gave me a lot of direction and purpose. I dread to think where I would be without him.”

Tanya Russell, the sculptor, who was commissioned to create the statue, said: “When I was given the commission, it was an incredible honour. The journey from then to now has been incredible – learning so much more about their story and the love of the fans, how many people they have inspired has been incredible.”

The statue is in between two wooden benches in Islington Green opposite Waterstones, who allowed Mr Bowen space to write the first book, A Street Cat Named Bob.

Mr Bowen with Bob the Street Cat on his shoulders

Mark Bossley from the Blue Cross, who originally treated Bob when James brought him to the vets in 2007, said: “It is great that he lives on in people’s memories – Islington is quite a village, there is quite a community here so keeping that memory here is just great.”

Mr Bossley added: “I remember coming in and him telling me the story how this cat had just befriended him. He brought Bob in and we checked him over but it was his story that stayed with me. James has really helped promote Blue Cross and what we do – he hasn’t forgotten us, which is great.”

Islington’s environment chief, Councillor Rowena Champion, said: “Islington’s new Street Cat Bob bench will give local residents and visitors somewhere to sit and enjoy our park, and we’d like to thank everyone who funded the bench, including Street Cat Bob fans around the world.”

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