Bowen was born in Surrey in March 1979. Following his parents’ divorce, he moved to Australia with his mother. Because they moved frequently, Bowen was often bullied at school. He later dropped out of education in his second year of high school, becoming a self-confessed "tearaway kid" who would later be diagnosed with ADHD, schizophrenia and manic depression.
In 1997, he returned to the United Kingdom to live with his half-sister and her husband. Tensions arose and the arrangement did not last. In time, he began sleeping on the streets. For the next few years, Bowen either slept in the streets or stayed in shelters. He began using heroin to escape from the realities of homelessness.
In Spring 2007, Bowen was enrolled on a methadone programme, busking in Covent Garden, and living in a supported housing programme in Tottenham, London. One evening he returned home to find a ginger cat in the hallway of his building. Assuming it belonged to another resident, he simply returned to his flat. When the cat was still there the following day, and the day after that, Bowen became concerned and discovered the cat was wearing no collar or ID tag, and had an infected wound on his leg. Bowen checked with other residents to see if the stray belonged to any of them, and when none of them claimed ownership of the animal Bowen decided to help the cat himself.
According to the account in A Street Cat Named Bob, Bowen took the cat to the nearby RSPCA clinic, which provided antibiotics to treat the infected wound. To make sure the cat received the full two-week course of medication, Bowen took him in for a time, while he continued to look for the stray’s owner. When he couldn’t find any information, he released the cat back on to the street, hoping he’d find his own way home. Instead, he began to follow Bowen around, even following him onto the bus when he left to go busking. Concerned that the cat had nowhere else to go, Bowen took him in permanently, naming him Bob after a character from the television drama Twin Peaks.
Since Bob constantly followed James when he was going to work, he got him a harness for safety and allowed him to come along to his regular spots in Covent Garden and Piccadilly, travelling in the window seat of the number 73 bus. The public reaction was positive and the pair became popular, their visibility increasing still further when Bowen began selling The Big Issue. The public began uploading videos of Bowen and Bob to YouTube, and tourists would visit Covent Garden to see them. During this time, Bowen decided to conclude his methadone treatment. He credits this development to Bob, saying "I believe it came down to this little man. He came and asked me for help, and he needed me more than I needed to abuse my own body. He is what I wake up for every day now... he’s definitely given me the right direction to live my life."
A number of books have been published about Bowen and Bob.
In time, Bowen and Bob’s public appearances attracted the attention of the Islington Tribune, which first published his story in September 2010. This was read by Mary Pachnos, the literary agent responsible for the UK rights to John Grogan's Marley and Me, who introduced Bowen to the writer Garry Jenkins. The pair produced an outline for a book which Pachnos used to secure a book deal with the publishers Hodder & Stoughton. Since its publication the book has sold over 1 million copies in the UK alone, and has been translated into 30 languages and spent over 76 weeks at the top of The Sunday Times' bestseller list in both its hardback and paperback editions.A Street Cat Named Bob: And How He Saved My Life was published in the USA on 30 July 2013 and entered The New York Times best-seller list at No 7. A movie of the same name was released in late 2016, starring Luke Treadaway as Bowen and with Bob playing himself.
The World According to Bob continues the story of Bowen and Bob's lives on the street, including the period leading up to their meeting with his agent Mary Pachnos. It was released on 4 July 2013 and was also a number one book on The Sunday Times' bestseller list.
Bob: No Ordinary Cat is a version of the book A Street Cat Named Bob re-written specifically for children. It was released on Valentine's day 2013.
Where in The World Is Bob? is a picture book in which readers have to spot Bob, James and assorted other items in scenes around the world. It mirrors Bob's travels in a hugely popular blog "Around the World In 80 Bobs", where fans of the book take photographs of the famous cat at various locations around the world. It was published in October 2013.
My Name is Bob, a picture book for young children written by Bowen with Garry Jenkins and illustrated by Gerald Kelley, published by Random House in the UK in April, 2014. It imagines Bob's life prior to him meeting Bowen.
For the Love of Bob is a children's version of The World According to Bob and the sequel to Bob: No Ordinary Cat. It was released on 3 July 2014.
"A Gift from Bob" is a short story about Bowen and Bob's final Christmas on the streets together. According to publishers Hodder & Stoughton, the book reveals "how Bob helped James through one of his toughest times - providing strength, friendship and inspiration but also teaching him important lessons about the true meaning of Christmas along the way." It was published on 9 October 2014 and reached No 8 on the Sunday Times best-seller list.
Bob to the Rescue is a second children's picture book written again with Garry Jenkins and illustrated by Gerald Kelley. It was published by Random House in September 2014.
In March 2014 a film was optioned by London-based Shooting Script Films, and its producer Adam Rolston. In August 2015, Variety announced that Luke Treadaway would star in the film. Roger Spottiswoode would direct, with shooting in London to begin in October. During production, it was revealed that Bob played himself in the vast majority of the film's scenes. The film was released in the UK in November 2016.
A Street Cat Named Bob was nominated for the UK's National Book Awards in the Popular Non-Fiction category in November, 2012. In March 2014 A Street Cat Named Bob was listed at No. 7 on a list of the most inspiring teenage books as part of a poll for World Book Day.