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WATCH: New Tom Hickox Video
Christian Eede , April 3rd, 2017 12:11

Tom Hickox explores the story of a woman in communist Romania who developed a cult of celebrity despite never being seen on his new single and video

On the lead track from his second album, Tom Hickox explores the story of a woman in communist Romania, called Irina Nistor, who developed a cult of celebrity after dubbing the voice of female lead roles for every Western film secretly disseminated in the country.

Hickox discovered the story via this article in late 2015, discovering that her voice allegedly became known as the second most recognisable Romanian voice in the country after Ceaucescu's. She was also the subject of this documentary on the celebrity that she developed from her secret job.

After reading about her story, he wrote a song called 'The Dubbing Artist' from the perspective of a person that had become obsessed with her solely based on her voice since nobody ever saw her face, taking a different perspective on celebrity and exploring how the human mind creates its own images. Hickox eventually got in touch with Irina and was later invited to her 60th birthday party in Bucharest which he attended. He tells us about that and why he wrote the song below, while you can check out the video for the track above.

Tom Hickox's new album, Monsters In The Deep, is out now.

What fascinated you so much about Irina's story?

Tom Hickox: When I read Irina's story for the first time, it just leapt out at me. Firstly, the context of her living in a society where all consumption of culture was so strictly controlled is obviously entirely alien (despite Simon Cowell's best efforts), and therefore fascinating in itself. The only TV available was 2 hours of propaganda every night, films were banned, and even owning a VHS player was illegal. Yet here was someone who quite literally risked her life on a daily basis to dub bootlegged American and British movies into Romanian. There isn't anything about her story that isn't riveting, but I think what makes it so special is the fact that it was her voice that dubbed all the roles in all the films (male/female/children etc), and so she became the most trusted voice in the lives of all ordinary Romanians. There is no doubt that that kind of cultural ubiquity will just never happen again.

Is there a particularly interesting or unique power you see in Irina developing a cult of celebrity while maintaining relative anonymity?

TH: I just thought it was extraordinary, and so alien to our culture now, that someone could be so famous (reputedly the 2nd most famous Romanian voice behind only Ceaucescu's), and yet still be completely unknown to look at, invisible almost. And so there were many Romanians who, because they were unable to put a face to her voice, did so in their own imaginations. She attained an almost mythical, semi-divine status in people's minds. Her life was imagined, mapped out in daydreams, but never known. What a contrast to today where every aspect of everyone's life, every meal, every holiday, it's all forced upon you via social media. The imagination is a much more interesting place than reality.

What made you specifically write this song from the perspective of somebody obsessed with a person they never see?

TH: I think there must have been many people obsessed with her, and obsession is a very interesting emotion to explore in art, and something we can all relate to - a way in to think about this incredible life of hers. To write from the point of view of an obsessive, perhaps even something more sinister, gives the song a relevance beyond the boundaries of her story, as those emotions have been felt since the dawn of humanity.

How did your contact with Irina come about and how did it go?

TH: A clever bit of sleuthing (not by me!) tracked her down, and I sent her the song which she loved. After a few emails were exchanged she invited me to her 60th birthday party in Bucharest, which was too good an invitation to turn down. I had a brilliant weekend, made friends with some fascinating people (not least Irina), saw a really vibey city, and partook in Romanian culture in a way I would never otherwise have done (including ceremonially breaking a sponge cake on Irina's head!). I'll probably steer clear of their cask strength plum brandy from now on though.

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