Big Issue Vendor

Paul McNamee: Street Cat Bob was no ordinary cat

He represented a second chance and hope and never giving up on somebody, things that are hardwired into The Big Issue DNA

Last week, Street Cat Bob died.

The reaction from readers has been unprecedented. We have been inundated with messages of condolence, details about times of meetings and requests to pass thoughts on to James Bowen. James was Bob’s owner. But that is too reductive an explanation of that relationship.

As so many of our readers know, James was homeless and struggling with addiction when Bob, a stray cat, came into his life. That was in 2007 and they were inseparable from then until the end. Bob was James’ companion as he busked and then, working his way back, began to sell The Big Issue. Soon, their incredible bond gave James a new focus and eventually a book deal. The bestseller, in 2012, became a series of bestsellers. Then came the movie. Bob, James has said before and since, saved his life.

And all the time, James and Bob used their growing global fame to keep attention on homeless issues. Bob brought new people to The Big Issue. When they read about us in the book, people who had been previously unaware became converts.

Over the last number of years we have frequently carried Bob on the cover of The Big Issue. In fact, Bob has been cover-star more than any other person (or indeed animal) – 10 times. And each time, our vendors rejoiced because Bob had star power. He guaranteed sales and guaranteed vendors would prosper. James didn’t have to do this. He could have taken his ball and gone home. He could have said, you’ve had your time with me, I’m now going to say yes to the money offers for exclusives. But it’s a testimony to the man that he didn’t. His story, and that of Bob, have been intertwined with the story of The Big Issue for a decade and more. We are proud to have James as a friend.

For those on the margins, the bond with a pet is even more vital

There was another reason, though, why our vendors were keen to see Bob on the cover. All of us who have pets know how important they are to our lives. They become, for many, the closest and most loyal of companions. A lot of this feeling has been concentrated during lockdown. For those on the margins, for many of our vendors and other people who find themselves homeless, the bond with a pet is even more vital. It’s a life pulse. And so, in Bob, they recognised that connection, those invisible bonds that grow like super-gravity. The animal becomes the thing that saves the person.

We are passing your messages on to James. He said he was looking forward to reading them. They matter to him.

Bob was more than just a cat and so his death has had a deep resonance. He represented a second chance and hope and never giving up on somebody, things that are hardwired into The Big Issue DNA.

We will put together a special edition in the coming weeks. Share your thoughts and memories with us until then.

Sometimes the unbidden and unexpected provide the most vital elements.

Paul McNamee is editor of The Big Issue