LFP ARCHIVES: How a London native changed live sports forever – The London Free Press

Ted Giannoulas was raised in London, where his love of baseball began. But after growing up here — a childhood that included a stint changing the Labatt Park scoreboard during London Pontiacs games — his family moved to San Diego. There, he created a legendary comedic character that changed live sports forever: The San Diego Chicken. This story on the master of mascots by reporter Patrick Maloney was first published on the front page of the Saturday, Aug. 23, 2000 editions of The Free Press.

Pressed to admit he’s among the most famous Londoners ever, Ted Giannoulas does what he’s done for 30 years.

He chickens out.

He’s been called a “god” in his field, the “Sir Laurence Olivier” of his craft. From the mind of the young man who grew up on Essex Street, an idea hatched that would leave a permanent mark on North American pop culture.

Giannoulas is marking his 30th year as the San Diego Chicken, a character he created that has earned him the admiration of the mascot industry and six-figure annual salaries — hardly chicken feed.

Yet, Giannoulas hesitates to consider himself one of London’s biggest exports.

“Isn’t Jenny Jones from London?” he laughed during a phone interview from Iowa.

“I’ve had my moments (but) there would be other people who would be more famous.”

London native Ted Giannoulas, aka the San Diego Chicken.

After three decades, performing before an estimated 60 million people, the red-and-yellow-feathered character Giannoulas debuted at a San Diego Padres baseball game in 1974 is recognizable to many.

He has performed at minor- and big-league sports events, and appears as a drawing card at such events as trade shows, conventions and parades.

Now, with the Padres leaving their stadium of 35 years, the Chicken is returning to San Diego for the National League team’s final games.

There were mascots before the Chicken started ruffling feathers, but many observers agree none before were anything like him — and all since are modeled in his image.

“I guess I’m seen as the godfather of feathers,” he said. “(Mine) is a comedic live show. The misconception is it’s just a guy dressed up in a costume, but in reality the costume is secondary.

“The Chicken is a unique comic.”

The Chicken’s reputation in the industry is peerless, says a Calgary mascot maker who has created 2,000 characters.

“He’s the god,” said Glenn Street of Street Characters. “If it wasn’t for Ted, none of us would be in business.”

Giannoulas attended Central secondary school in London before moving with his family to San Diego at 16.

As a journalism student at San Diego State University, he landed a one-week job dressed as a chicken to promote a radio station. The job lasted five years until he won the rights to the character and went out on his own, travelling and entertaining millions.

His defining moment?

His “grand hatching” at San Diego’s Jack Murphy Stadium in 1979, when he emerged from an oversized egg to the theme of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The 47,000 fans gave him a 10-minute standing ovation.

“That was their only sellout that year,” he noted.

What’s remarkable is that’s he’s still at it, Street said.

Most mascots, he said, can only handle the “bumps and bruises” for about five years.

“I don’t know anyone who’s been doing it that long.”

Giannoulas, 50, said there’s no secret to his longevity.

“I stuck it out because I was enjoying myself. (It’s been) a lot of laughs, tremendous personal joy and better than getting a real job.”

Editor’s note: Our colleagues at The London profiled Giannoulas in July 2018. Read it here.