January 8, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 2

Vendor of the Week

Global Vendor Profile - James Bowen

via: Ireland’s Big Issue / By Samantha Bailie

James Bowen and Bob

Photo courtesy Hodder & Stoughton

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More than a year ago, Ireland’s Big Issue ran a piece on James Bowen and his cat, Bob. Perhaps you’ve read James’ book, “A Street Cat Named Bob: And How He Saved My Life,” which candidly tells the story of James’ drug addiction, and poor mental health and how finding a stray cat, wise beyond its years, aided him in his recovery and in filtering slowly back into society after years of charity shelters and sleeping rough.


James, tell me: How has life changed since the success of “A Street Cat Named Bob”?

For me it’s a relief no longer feeling invisible, and it’s great having people wanting you for TV programs and magazines. But apart from that, I love having the opportunity to educate people on how The Big Issue works, how people end up homeless, how people can become addicted to drugs [and] how we need better support networks, networks that are currently not in place.


You and Bob became something of a YouTube phenomenon after people started uploading videos of you busking with Bob on your shoulder, which of course led to your literary agent discovering you and all this success.

I had no idea initially that there was so much traffic on YouTube to see us, but someone mentioned it, and I went into the library to use a computer, and there we were. The local paper in Islington wrote a piece on us, and this led to my literary agent coming up to me. I thought she was joking, and I didn’t take her seriously.


You first met Bob on the stairs of your sheltered accommodation, and you said there was “a quiet, unflappable confidence about him.” Do you think you and Bob were destined to have entangled lives?

There is no doubt that we were destined for each other as there was such a bond. Our lives have worked out for the better knowing each other. I joke that we knew each other in a past life [laughs].


Everyone’s journey through addiction is different, but what advice would you give anyone struggling?

For me, although I was on a program when I met Bob, having responsibility, having something other than myself to think about, really helped me. There was something deep within me that was tired of my life; I wanted something better. I wanted to strive for a better existence. I desperately wanted a better life, and having Bob helped me to strive for that.


Being an author is the ideal job for you then?

Exactly. I’m writing books all the time now. They’re all related to Bob at the moment, but Bob’s wild, free spirit really makes me embrace my wild, free spirit, which in turn has given me the drive.


How has your life changed since the book?

Well, I’ve gone from being on benefits and worrying about the electric and the gas and the bailiffs banging on the door to, all of a sudden, paying this thing that’s called income tax, and going into one of the higher tax brackets. I can barely believe it myself: It’s still a bit of a shock. I’m happy, I’m not worried anymore, and it’s all because of Bob. He gave me the determination.


You are still very passionate about The Big Issue concept.

Yes. I don’t think enough people understand how the magazine works: You have to have the money to buy them, there’s no sale or return, and when a vendor purchases the magazines, they are then going out in all weather, attempting to create a small income for themselves. It’s not an easy job.


Let’s talk about this worldwide Bob phenomenon.

[Laughs] I can’t believe it, Sam. There’s “Around the World in 80 Bobs,” a website where fans take pictures of the book in locations all over the world. Then there’s Bob’s Twitter account that has more than 35,000 followers and our Facebook, which has more than 66,000 likes.


What advice would you give to your 16-year-old self?

[Laughs] That’s a difficult one, but my advice would be: Be wary of people who take your kindness for weakness.


Any other advice for your teenage self?

Always strive for excellence in whatever you’re doing in life. Take the blows that come your way but keep doing the right thing because your goodness will come back to you.

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