Meet Madhat, a reclusive Nottingham character with a big heart and an epic collection of hats. Words and photos by Hal and Gwen Brinton.

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Madhat and sister, Wendy

There we were, cameras in hand, notebooks in pockets, searching, looking for a man that we thought could not be found. Perhaps one such as he didn’t want to be found, perhaps one so mysterious and intriguing operated as such that he could only been seen as and when he chose. Nevertheless, it had been decided, we had committed  to search out this man in a hope that we would learn more from him and his eccentric hats. Let me explain…

It was a snowy Saturday in Nottingham, and we were in the Market Square to grab a coffee.  We noticed a mass of people, calm, excited and dedicated. They had congregated outside the council house to celebrate the mighty ice hockey kings, The Nottingham Panther’s recent win in the play-off final. The crowds were happy, smiles everywhere. There were men women, families – all there to show their support and appreciation for the band of brothers. It was then that my friend noticed another fan, another happy face in the crowd.

He wasn’t exactly in the crowd, however rather more just standing behind it; a happy glare in his eyes, almost a though he were at peace with the excitement around him. Intrigued, we approached and as we got closer we could see  what can only be described as an amazing hat on his head, topped with a shiny trophy. We said hello and enquired about the marvellous being atop his cranium. He introduced himself as Madhat,eloquently stating, “I’m Madhat, look at my hat, do you like it?”. We then learnt that the trophy hat was not unique, it was part of a collection of interesting headwear numbering in its hundreds.

Madhat on Grand National Day
Madhat on Grand National Day

Madhat was such a cheerful chap and showed so much genuine pride in the hats he had crafted and of the Panthers and the city. A good half an hour later and after much insight into Madhat’s life we departed from our new friend. Before we left, we asked Madhat for a few pictures of his hat couture; he was ecstatic at the suggestion. Pictures were taken, the crowds were dispersing and we were leaving, unexpectedly happy with the chance encounter that we stumbled across. As we made our way through the snow en route to the flat we couldn’t stop ourselves from thinking about Madhat, during dinner we brought him up in conversation with our friends, and were regaled of tales of him spied in person and in print. We attempted to look him up on the internet, but to no avail; Madhat was an enigma, wrapped in a mystery.

A day or so passed, we carried on with life and put it down to a funny experience, but we couldn’t let it lie, we had to find him. It took some time, but finally, on a hunch we entered the local bookies…he was known there! They explained to me that our mysterious figure was a well known face and that his hats were something of a local heritage. Whenever there would be a big event on, something sensational, he would surface with a brand new home-crafted hat. Through some guess work and some luck, we managed to track him down.

Kevin Sheldon also known as Madhat was born and bred in Clifton, Nottingham. A street co-ordinator and volunteer, he has done much for local charity through a couple of unusual talents, making hats and winning competitions. In blissful humour the first thing he tells me is that he doesn’t drink, smoke or own a computer – Madhat has too much to keep him occupied.

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Kevin’s hat aren’t just any hats, all are designed and made by him to reflect local and national events. The inspirations for his creations come from brand named articles that shops donate to him, including piles of leaflets that uses as logos.

He and sister Wendy first entered a hat into a Nottingham in Bloom competition. Uniquely designed with small lawn mowers, shrubs and garden shears. Their effort ‘went down well’. Later that year the pair made another garden hat, this time with miniature garden equipment attached to it – an effort that won them first prize.

Kevin has since branched out from horitculture headwear, to a variety of designs based on upcoming happenings.  “I cover all the events in Nottingham, ” he said,  before listing them one by one. At each celebration he will be sporting a different and individually made hat (“Last year I made a hat of match boxes and a giant big wheel, inspired by the funfair in Market Square”) – ask him nicely and it’s yours, just as long as you make a donation to charity.

During our interview, a passer by asked Kevin whether he was selling his hat, and he agreed, on the strict condition that the money sold from the hat was donated to The City Hospital’s Maggie’s Appeal charity, who Kevin has a great relationship with. Regarding the sale of his hats, Kevin mentions; “The amount of people that want to buy my hats astounds me.” He often speaks with the council too, a certain Clifton Councillor being a particular fan, “I made a hat for Nottingham Beach and a lady mentioned to me that she liked my hat. It was Councillor Jeannie Packer. Now she rings us up and invites us to all the events in Nottingham.

I ask him if he has any favourite themes for his hats? “No favourite themes. I make them for everybody” says Kevin. “ I am a walking advertisement. I wear logos. I cut out pictures and information.”

Madhat and friends

Madhat and friends

Hats aren’t the only thing that Kevin is renowned for, however. He’s also a bit canny in competitions, alongside his sister, who has previously been interviewed by national magazines for her ability to win, well, everything really. Kevin quotes “ I’ve got signed sports equipment. We’ve won a trip to Miami, been on the Orient Express. Over the years we’ve won a year’s supply of crisps, a year’s supply of Polos and a year’s supply of beer.”

Other prizes include a dishwasher, a ride-on lawnmower, sexy nightwear and a year’s supply of condoms – the latter being donated to the NHS. Kevin says, “I’ve played against some ex-footballers on an all expenses trip to Cardiff to do with Coca Cola and part of the prize was being presented with my own personal football kit.”Kevin played in goal, but before half time he let in so many balls that they totalled double figures, even missing a penalty when offered it. He asked the promoters whether they would like their kit back but instead they presented Kevin with a match ball with the Coca-Cola logo.

“Once I won a year supply of condoms and a year’s supply of Guinness. We don’t drink so I put a call out in the Nottingham Post offering it to a needy cause. I was so so funny, we received so many letters from members of the public giving many reasons why they needed the drink. The most common reason was for stag and hen parties.”

It’s great fun for the pair to win prizes for themselves,however every penny that Kevin and Wendy win goes to Nottingham based charities. “ We receive so many letters from charities and the public wishing us both well and congratulating us on our achievements, it’s lovely”.

I asked Kevin if he will continue his good work into the future,“Yes, this is our life, helping others and being good at what we do. This is the city that we were born in, it has loved us cared for us and we appreciate this so much. People in Nottingham are great, and the city makes us proud”.

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