But Sick Puppies lead singer Shimon Moore, 22, who uploaded his short film montage of "kindred spirit" Juan Mann featuring their song "All the Same," is still pinching himself: "I have no idea how this happened, I've stopped trying to think about it. I've been racking my brain. I really don't know." Meanwhile Juan, the reluctant celebrity who's been offering "free hugs" in Sydney's Pitt St Mall for two years, is bracing himself for world-wide recognition. Who's Jenna Good caught up with Shimon and 23-year-old "coffee-maker" Juan (he won't reveal his real name or where he works) just before US TV networks - and Oprah Winfrey, who's featuring them on her show on Oct. 26 (to air in Australia on Nov. 20) - picked up on their stories.JG: How did this all start?
JM: I came back from London in January 2004 and my family and friends were scattered across the world. I was the only person I knew and I was lonely. My parents had divorced, I had broken up with my fiancée and my grandmother was sick and I needed to feel happy. I went out to a party one night and a completely random person came up to me and gave me a hug. I felt like a king! It was greatest thing that ever happened. Six months later, on June 30, in Pitt Street Mall, I decided to give away free hugs. It was kind of creepy walking up to a stranger without any form of introduction and I didn't want to harass anyone so that's why I held up a sign. My first hug was from a little old lady, really similar to the clip. I'd been out for 15 minutes and I was terrified. But I had hope that maybe one person out there would take me up on the offer.JG: What do you do with yourself when you're not giving out Free Hugs on a Thursday afternoon?
JM: Oh I just have a little job around the corner of my house - nothing spectacular. I walk away from work and it's all just gone. I don't want to say where because I'm trying to keep work out of this whole thing-they're really excitable! It's very quiet around here-I live in Roseville, near Chatswood, in a quiet little area, nothing much goes on and that's the way I like it. It's like a little refuge. I went to university four times and I always do really well and I don't feel challenged. Giving free hugs is one thing that I've gone back to week after week without fail because I know I'm doing something. It doesn't matter that the money's not there and that it's not a career path, what matters is that it makes a difference to somebody's life just for a moment. Life ambitions? I've never had an answer!JG: So are you worried about how this fame is going to affect your life?
JM: It is going to be different but the important thing for me is being able to be kept grounded and keeping my job. The spotlight will shine for a while but it will fade in the end. It's exciting but my life is just going to carry on as it always has and as it always will. If I became a rich and famous hugging celebrity I would still be doing the same thing I do every week. I would still be hugging because I have everything I need, what more could I possibly want? I have a house to live in, food to eat. My housemates didn't really know I did this either, they kind of had a few ideas. It wasn't the kind of thing I ran around boasting about. I'd always avoid the TV crews when they came to Pitt Street. I would run away and hide.JG: Is that why you go by the pseudonym Juan Mann?
JM: I keep my real name to myself because my family, friends and work didn't know and I guess the whole thing about a different name is that it's not about me, it's about how it makes people feel and think. I used to say to my friends, "I'm just one man! What can I do?!" I did feel that I was looking for something that was a little bit more than what's out there, I had to do something.JG: Do you get recognised even when you're not in hugging mode?
JM: I cut my hair about a year ago because I was getting stopped at petrol stations while I was buying milk. It wasn't good for work. It's a bit like Superman and Clark Kent! This has grown beyond anything I ever thought was possible. What started out as a way for me to get a smile out of strangers has turned into this social theory of peace and humanity. I want to go on Oprah to say thank you to everybody. you can be going hungry on your el-cheapo noodle diet (all in the name of following the rock star dream, of course) and the next, getting ready to appear on Oprah.
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