Pinoy Hat-Man spreads cheer with Paralympic piece

By Edward Lao, ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau

Posted at Aug 31 2012 02:50 PM | Updated as of Sep 01 2012 08:20 PM

LONDON - Whenever a big event happens in London, Chito Salarza-Grant unleashes one of his trademark hats onto the unwitting public.

The 47-year old Pinoy, dubbed the Hat-Man of London, has created various hats to celebrate occasions like the royal wedding of William and Kate, the Queen's Jubilee, the 2012 Olympics, and more recently the Notting Hill Carnival.

His latest creation is for the Paralympics.

The piece, which he describes as interactive art, stands near two-feet tall and weighs five kilos.

It has flashing lights, around 60 flags, a wheelchair, tennis ball, a racket and shoes among other things. Sitting at the peak is a stuffed toy of Mandeville, the Paralympic mascot, riding a motorcycle with a side carriage.

ABS-CBN Europe caught up with the artist at Westfield Stratford, a stone's throw away from the Olympic Stadium, as he paraded through the shopping mall with his hat for the first time.

It attracted stares and smiles from bemused onlookers, many of whom approached the Pinoy to get a closer look or to ask for photos.

“It's an impressive hat, I must say. When he said I could wear it I thought I'd give it a go,” said one teenage boy.

His friend added, “Mad, first word comes to mind, but very impressive - the aspects of the Olympics, all the flags around it. It's really, really heavy though.”

“Well, it's certainly original,” commented one man.

“It's a bit crazy but very, very original. I can't believe this guy walks around London wearing this thing. But hey, whatever is good for you, that's cool,” he added.

Further into the mall, a mother sitting with family could not contain her amusement as Salarza-Grant walked by.

“It's fantastic. It's very funny. Very good. It brightens everyone's day up. It made me laugh,” she said.

A grinning Pinay that was sitting only few feet away wanted to try on the hat.

“It's really lovely. It's very unique, very Filipino and Olympic-y. I was impressed that's why I took a picture,” she said.

The hat also attracted the attention of staff within the mall, who lined up to take snaps.

One male employee of a department store said, “It shows true Olympic spirit. We need more people like him in London, bringing the spirits up of all the people that are coming from all over the globe. It's really creative. Made me smile.”

The eyes of a female employee lit up when Salazar-Grant appeared by her post at the escalators.

“It's fabulous. It epitomizes the whole spirit of the Games and all the countries. It's just fabulous and fun,” she said.

Even two members of the Philippine Paralympic team noticed Salarza-Grant's hat.

Andy Avellana, a high jumper with one leg, tried it on.

“It's beautiful, it's nice. It's very heavy,” Avellana said.

Roger Tapia, born with only one arm, is a 200m runner competing later today (August 31).

Tapia said he is enjoying his stay in London, especially after seeing creations like Salarza-Grant's hat. The sprinter is also pleased about the support the team is receiving from kababayans.

“Happy po, masaya po kasi mahal dito po sa London,” Tapia said.

Salarza-Grant has been sourcing materials for his hat over the past few months. Everything cost him around £100.

He was pleased with the reception it received, after piecing the hat together in only 30 hours, a day before the Paralympic opening ceremony.

"The people that are here, they can relate with the hat because they are here for the Paralympics. People were like 'ohh', because they can feel it. They can feel the spirit of the event. That's why they wanted to try it on or take a photograph,” Salarza-Grant said.

“I am happy that I was able to make people smile with free entertainment and everyone is happy," he added.

Salarza-Grant began making hats in 2009 to capture London's culture and historical moments. He has since built up a collection of over 300.

He said they will all be left with a museum in the British capital when he passes on.

"I made my will and I'm going to donate all my hats to the Victoria and Albert museum when I die. It's all about London history you see," he said.

The Paralympic hat is the Pinoy's penultimate creation.

Salarza-Grant's final piece will be unveiled on September 10, during a bus parade of Great Britain's athletes in London.