The queue snakes out of the doors of Waterstones and onto Islington Green. A staff member says it is the biggest crowd they have ever pulled in for a signing; over 200 members of the public, a TV crew and a gaggle of journalists eagerly await the arrival of street musician James Bowen and his doting companion, Bob the cat.
The placid ginger tom is nothing short of a feline celebrity. He has his own Wikipedia entry, his own Oyster card and now his very own book—A Street Cat Named Bob—co-written by his owner.
“It’s incredible the response I’ve had,” says Bowen. “To see people queuing around the block to meet us… Wow! That’s craziness. I feel so honoured that people think so much of Bob and myself.
“I felt overawed when I first saw everyone; it frightened me to tell the truth. Bob takes it in his stride though. He always does. He’s one of a kind.”
He’s not wrong. Bob is lapping up the attention. He even has his own bespoke paw stamp for the signing and by the end of the evening he amasses four bags of treats from his adoring fans.
Familiar faces on the streets of Islington where Bowen sold The Big Issue, the pair have been inseparable for five years.
The 33-year-old Londoner first encountered Bob, who is thought to be six years old, in Tottenham, close to Bowen’s sheltered accommodation.
Bob was severely injured following a suspected animal attack. Bowen was a recovering drug addict and facing a similarly uncertain future.
“James had just arrived in the accommodation. As he mentions in the book, he was on his last chance when he came across Bob,” says the book’s co-author, writer and journalist Garry Jenkins.
Bowen took him in, nursed him back to health and then sent him on his way. Except Bob refused to leave his side.
“From that point they’ve both moved slowly upwards,” continues Jenkins.
“London is a city of lost souls and here are two of them. They were broken individuals, struggling. But they’re survivors too and their paths just happened to cross. Their journey has been the same journey.”
The duo became a star attraction outside Angel tube station with Bob draped around Bowen’s shoulders or sprawled on his owner’s rucksack.
Their legion of fans included Islington resident Mary Pachnos, a literary agent at Aitken Alexander Associates Ltd, which represents Sebastian Faulks, and Germaine Greer.
“I passed by James a few times and thought ‘that’s unusual – you don’t normally see a cat!’ And I do love cats. Then I saw a piece in a local paper about their amazing friendship and decided ‘I’ve got to get them before anyone else does.’ James was enthusiastic from the outset. He’s a booklover; very literate and very articulate.”
“The process of writing the book was really enjoyable and actually quite easy to be honest. Just telling my story as it was,” says Bowen.
The book charts the pair’s many adventures in north London and Covent Garden, where they now entertain onlookers.
“The book took nine months to complete,” adds Jenkins. “Much of it was written here in Waterstones, which is why we wanted the store to host a signing.”
At its heart is the theme of survival, continues Jenkins. “James said that before he met Bob he felt invisible. We all need a friend, and he’s found an extraordinary friend in Bob.”
Fast forward 18 months from the book’s conception and its furry star is enjoying his time in the limelight.
“Bob’s definitely become a bit of a J-Lo diva that’s for sure,” says Bowen.
“What’s next? World domination, that’s what cats want isn’t it? A film would be nice!”
Given the book has already been translated into seven languages and the pair have been invited onto the This Morning sofa, maybe the big screen is not such a pipe dream after all.
A Street Cat Named Bob: How One Man and His Cat Found Hope on the Streets of London, is out now published by Hodder & Stoughton, priced at £14.99.