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Cuddle king ... Juan Mann with huggee in Pitt Street Mall
Photo: Wade Laube
The man behind the latest YouTube sensation has spoken out for the first time about his global cuddling controversy.
Serial hugger Juan Mann describes the free hugs he hands out in Pitt Street Mall as fast-food emotion.
An American television audience of millions also watched him at work, when the video was broadcast on the prime-time breakfast program Good Morning America yesterday.
Today, the hugger was at it again, brandishing his "free hugs" sign in the busy pedestrian thoroughfare, and having quite a few people take him up on his offer.
"It's a way to make people smile," Mann said.
"For every person who gets a hug, you see five walk past with a smile on their face."
Juan Mann (pronounced one man) is a play on words, but the hugger insisted his rules included no names, no phone numbers, no relationships and no dates.
The hit video came about after a meeting - and a hug - more than a year ago with the lead singer of the Sick Puppies, a Sydney band made up of three former Mosman High School students.
The singer, Shimon Moore, was working odd jobs by day and playing gigs by night.
"I was one of those guys in Pitt Street Mall with a sandwich board advertising a shoe sale," Moore told smh.com.au today.
The two became mates, and Moore borrowed his father's video camera to shoot footage of the hug man at work.
But his efforts to spread the love became a little too popular for some people's liking, according to a blurb on the YouTube video, which said: "As this symbol of human hope spread across the city, police and officials ordered the Free Hugs campaign BANNED."
Undeterred, Mann collected more than 10,000 signatures on a petition he presented to the City of Sydney council. Demands for a halt to the hugs petered out shortly after, and the end of the clip shows Mann hugging an official.
Speaking by phone from Los Angeles, where the Sick Puppies moved a year ago, the lead singer said he mixed the video with their song All The Same as a gift for his friend, to lift his spirits after his grandmother died.
It had the desired effect. Four days ago, the band posted the clip on YouTube. By 3pm today, it had close to 700,000 hits and almost 6000 comments, most of them gushing.
Like this one: "Made me cry. I love you all!"
The musician said the video had taken Mann's mission worldwide.
"He's achieved what he set out to do and I was lucky enough to be there to film it," Moore said.
There are even plans for a mass free hug-fest at midday on Monday, which could come in handy if the Sydney Swans don't win the premiership.
City worker Elly Mitchell, who handed out a few free hugs on her lunch break today, said she was inspired to organise the event after seeing the video online.
"We're going to hug the city," Ms Mitchell said.
A City of Sydney spokesman Josh MacKenzie said he could find no record of rangers asking Mann to move on.
"In fact, the feeling around the office is one of support for his campaign to spread a bit of happiness and love in the CBD," the spokesman said.
Asked if he had accepted a free hug, the council spokesman said he hadn't.
"But I'm sure council staff would welcome the opportunity to have a hug," he said.