My wife hated Hide the Pain Harold until I got paid for a Hungarian TV commercial

Nine years ago, I did a reverse image search on a photograph of me and was shocked to discover it had become a meme. People online thought my smile, combined with the look in my eyes, seemed terribly sad. They were calling me Hide the Pain Harold.

The photo came from a shoot Id done a year earlier, when I was still working as an electrical engineer. A professional photographer had got in touch after seeing my holiday photographs on Facebook. He said he was seeking someone like me to be in some stock images. Everyone is a little vain inside, myself included, so I was happy that he wanted me. He invited me to a photoshoot near my home in Budapest and we took shots in different locations and settings. Over the course of two years he took hundreds of pictures of me for photo libraries.

I thought the pictures would just be used by businesses and websites, but I wasnt expecting the memes. People overlaid text on my pictures, talking about their wives leaving them, or saying their identity had been stolen and their bank account emptied. They used my image because it looked as if I was smiling through the pain.

Once the memes were out in the world, journalists began to contact me, and wanted to come to my home to interview me. My wife hated it: she thought it interfered in our private life and didnt like the way I was portrayed. People thought I wasnt a real person, that I was a Photoshop creation someone even got in contact asking for proof that I existed.

Andrs
Still smiling through Photograph: StockLite/Shutterstock

I knew that it was impossible to stop people making memes, but it still annoyed me that Facebook pages, some with hundreds of thousands of followers, were using my photograph as their profile picture, and pretending to be me. Some kind of brand had been made out of me and I would have been a fool not to make use of it. So, in 2017, I created my own Facebook fan page and updated it with videos and stories from my travels.

That started everything going. People noticed that I had taken ownership of the meme and got in contact to offer me work. I was given a role in a television commercial for a Hungarian car dealer. In one of the adverts, I travelled to Germany to buy a used car and it broke down halfway home; if I had bought the same car through their company, the brand claimed, it wouldnt have happened. The fee for that commercial changed my wifes mind about the meme.

Now my life has changed dramatically. People ask me to talk about my story, to demonstrate the power of memes. A football website flew me to England to make a video about Manchester City; I got to tour the ground and watch them play a Champions League game. The German mail-order giant Otto flew me out to make commercials for them. The Hungarian hard rock band Cloud 9+ have a song called Hide The Pain, with me in the video. Im the face of Totum, the British discount card run by the National Union of Students they got me to wear a bucket hat. Ive even given a TED talk.

Last year, I took 20 flights from Budapest to destinations all over the world: Europe, Russia and, increasingly, South America. Last month, I travelled to Chile and Colombia for some TV appearances; that was the first time I felt like a real celebrity. Every time I walked down the street a crowd would gather, so they gave me bodyguards. Ive never enjoyed a fame like that before; sometimes it was frightening.

Were also using the meme for good. We want it to be more than just a sad smile. I am the face of a campaign for a mental health service in Hungary, similar to the Samaritans in the UK. Im proud that something more has come out of the last 10 years than just an idiotic smile.

Im 74 now. I spent 40 years as an engineer. I did a bit of public speaking then, at conferences and lectures, but that was very different from appearing on television talkshows and YouTube videos. As an engineer, it was really me. Now, its role play: Im Hide the Pain Harold. But Im not actually a sad guy I think Im rather a happy one.

As told to Chris Stokel-Walker

Do you have an experience to share? Email [email protected]

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

 

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