Spreading the Love: Juan Mann

January 30, 2008, 1:04 pm Jenna Goo whomagazine

Isn't the web a wonderful thing? One minute 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. In just three weeks, Sydney (now LA based) band Sick Puppies have gone from being just another struggling group, to finding an audience of over three million people on youtube.com.


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.
Watch the video and then tell us what you think.

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  1. Yago04:40am Tuesday 29th March 2011 ESTReport Abuse

    I'm hugging people in Switzerland since I saw Sick Puppies video a few years ago. Five years of hugs... So many people to meet and already met! Well I'm still doing it twice a week and I don't know if I will stop one day. Thanks.


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