Big Issue Vendor

James Bowen: ‘This will be my first Christmas without Street Cat Bob’

Following Street Cat Bob's death, it's been a heartbreaking year for James Bowen. He celebrates the remarkable cat's legacy with his onscreen alter ego Luke Treadaway

Arriving on our screens just when we need it most, Street Cat Bob ‘s new movie A Christmas Gift From Bob is an utterly heart-warming addition to your festive viewing.

Of course, it comes at the end of a sad year. Of the many tragedies that have beset 2020, the legendary Street Cat Bob died at the grand old age of 14 in June.

His loyal companion James Bowen became a local celebrity in London with Bob when the pair sold The Big Issue, before the 2016 film A Street Cat Named Bob catapulted the pair into global stardom.

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The Big Issue’s Laura Kelly sat down with James and his onscreen alter ego Luke Treadaway for a socially distanced reminiscence about the late, great Bob.

It will be a bittersweet Christmas without Bob this year, says James, but his final appearance on the silver screen is an appropriate tribute to a truly remarkable cat.

The Big Issue: The movie is a tribute in many ways to Street Cat Bob. Do you think that the film does a good job of celebrating his legacy?

James Bowen: Yes, absolutely. I couldn’t be prouder of my little man. It’s really such a shame that he can’t be here to know how much love he’s receiving for it. He’s always in my heart and soul. And anybody who’s ever appreciated him in any way, there’s a little bit of him in all of those people.

At The Big Issue we’re delighted to be at the heart of the movie’s story, offering a hand up at a time that was very difficult for you, James. Tell us a bit about how important your job was selling the magazine.

James: Well, I mean, it was my routine. It was my daily life. It made me more socially active. Having had an issue with drugs, it really did help me to structure my life, going out and selling those magazines.

It was a joy to go to work with Bob, going out there and selling the magazine. Even if people were walking past me all day, I knew when somebody would come up and chat to me or buy a magazine off me they’d say hello to Bob. Yes, it was a great time. Obviously, it didn’t start out great but because I worked at it, it became special.

Luke, did your understanding of Big Issue vendors change through working on these films?

Luke Treadaway: Definitely, absolutely. I mean I had long supported the magazine and when I see someone selling it, I’d buy one. But I didn’t understand the full workings of it. And more than the technicalities, it was getting to know the actual people, James included, who were selling the magazine and the stories that matter to them. I definitely have a much better understanding now.

Do you think that there would ever be a part three to the Street Cat Bob movie series?

James: Maybe an animated version. I can’t see it happening with a live action movie. Luke’s here, but we haven’t got Bob any more.

Luke: Yeah. That’s what I would have thought. I can’t imagine it without Bob, without the main man himself. He was amazing.

Street Cat Bob: Luke and James accompany Bob to the premiere of the first film in 2016
James and Luke
Luke and James accompany Bob to the premiere of the first film in 2016 Photo: PA Images / Alamy

Do you feel concerned that the coronavirus recession will put more people at risk of falling through the cracks?

James: I know the Government can’t keep handing out money to people for furlough and for self-employment payments. It’s going to be more devastating than the financial crisis.

Is that a concern for you as well, Luke? I presume you’ve faced problems finding work this year?

Luke: Yeah, I have. The whole year’s been off. People are going from having a job and being secure in the world to just absolute devastation really.

This won’t be a normal Christmas. What plans do you have to make it festive?

Luke: Just to try and have a nice day. It seems perfectly acceptable to have a mimosa at 9am. That’s quite nice at Christmas. And I just like to spend time with my family.

James: This Christmas will be the first one in 14 years that I’ve spent without Bob. It’s going to be an interesting one. I’ve got my new boys here, Bandit and Gizmo, and I’ve got Jynxie and PomPom – my four cats.

So we’ve got them and I’ve got [fiancée] Monika [Hertes], so we’re just going to snuggle up. It’s a better Christmas than I used to have on the streets before I met Bob, that’s for sure. I’ll be raising a glass to Bob and feeling grateful that I knew him.

A Christmas Gift from Bob is is available now on online services as well as DVD and Blu-ray.