When celebrities attain a certain level of fame, they are known for demanding outrageous ‘riders’. This term may mean nothing to the likes of you and me but it’s de rigueur in the world of superstardom. Think of Mariah Carey and her request for 20 white kittens and 100 white doves while on tour. Or J Lo’s alleged demand that her coffee be stirred counter-clockwise. Then there’s the bizarre rider from P Diddy of 20 bars of soap.
The star of a recent film smash (and the protagonist of a bestselling book) has his own on-set demands: Dairylea Dunkers.
“Nobody tells you what hard work it is being a feline film star,” A Street Cat Named Bob tells me. “James would get me out of bed at the crack of dawn and I wouldn’t be home again until it was dark again. So I really needed my little treats. And yes, the Dairylea Dunkers were an essential ingredient if I was going to get through the long days.”
When James Bowen found an injured ginger street cat curled up in the hallway of his sheltered accommodation in 2007, he had no idea how drastically his life was about to change. A busker and drug addict, James’s life was challenging to say the least. But anyone who has read his book – the aforementioned A Street Cat Named Bob – can be in no doubt that James’s friendship with Bob saved his life (Bob says the same: “James is my best friend. It’s as simple as that. He’s also got a particularly comfortable spot on his shoulder where I like to sit as we travel around.).
I remember seeing James and Bob in Covent Garden some years back when I lived in London. Even by the capital’s standards, a musician with a feline sidekick was an odd sight. Little did I know what was going on in both of their lives. Consider this excerpt from the original book: “These strays are the flotsam and jetsam of the city, running around fighting for survival on a daily basis. A lot of them were like this ginger tom: slightly battered, broken creatures. Maybe he’d spotted a kindred spirit in me.”
Today there are a number of Bob books, all bestsellers, and people queue in their hundreds at signings. The success of the books – and the subsequent film – has allowed James to buy a house I wonder if the fame is going to Bob’s head and so I ask him what it feels like to add movie star to his CV.
“Pawsome. (I’ve discovered that you are allowed to make terrible cat puns when you are a movie star). But seriously, the sight of me staring out from the posters on the side of London buses has been the most amazing moment for me. I used to ride on the top deck of them, not be stuck on the side of them advertising a movie. That sums up what a surreal experience the whole thing has been.”
And, er, what was it like meeting the Duchess of Cambridge at the premiere of the film?
“I confused her with the noises I was making. ‘Is he growling or purring?’ she asked James at one point as she stroked me. I was actually purring at how beautiful she is in the flesh. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed walking down the red carpet. Bit disappointed it wasn’t ginger though.”
With a sequel to Bob’s film rumoured to be on the cards, I ask Bob if there are any cat films, or films with cats in them, that he particularly likes?
“I’m a big fan of Jonesy, the cat in Alien. He’s a pretty cool ginger too and a real survivor.”
I hear you Bob, I hear you.
As the interview draws to a close (and knowing how busy Bob is), I suggest a quick-fire Q&A. Bob happily obliges.
Dairylea Dunkers or Pilgrims Choice?
Dunkers, every time. Whenever I get one I smile inside. I am literally the cat that got the cream cheese.
Lassie or Toto?
Toto. He can be a feisty character too, just like me.
The Aristocats or The Cat in the Hat?
Aristocats. Thomas O’Malley is one of the great screen street cats, and Scat Cat and his band are the best feline musicians ever.
Catnip or cream?
Neither. I’m following James’ example and avoiding drugs.
Chin tickle or tummy tickle?
Love them both. A tickle is a tickle, after all.
Dreamies or Temptations?
Dreamies. They were one of the very first treats that James got me when we became friends. They always remind me of our early days together. It felt like a dream that I had found a friend after being alone on the streets.
Catwoman: Anne Hathaway or Michelle Pfeiffer?
Michelle Pfeiffer. She’s purrfect in the role. (Do you think maybe I’m overdoing this cat pun thing?)
And on that note, I’ll leave you with this moving paragraph from the end of Bob’s first book. Proof, if proof were needed, that animals really do make the best of friends. “Bob didn’t need drugs to get through the night. He just needed his companion: me. And at that moment I decided that was all I needed too. All I needed was Bob. Not just tonight, but for as long as I had the privilege of having him in my life.”
By Helen Nugent, Editor of Northern Soul