‘I explained the dangers of DIY body art to Harry Styles’: Celebrity inker Kevin Paul’s campaign for tattoo regulation

By Helen Le Caplain

Gone are the days when tattoos were only seen adorning the bodies of sailors, soldiers and circus freaks.

This type of body art has taken on a life force on its own and is now seen on many celebrities including the likes of David Beckham, Angelina Jolie and Rihanna.

And it’s not just the preserve of the rich and famous, with an estimated 20 million Brits in the UK choosing to ink up.

As tattoos are a permanent addition it’s all well and good if you’re a consenting adult who has visited a reputable tattoo artist and are delighted with the end product.

However if you’re one of the unlucky ones who are stuck with a poor design, an infection, or a potentially life-altering infections such as HIV or Hepatitis, what can you do then?

In the words of Paul Daniels, not a lot.

There may be grounds to seek some sort of damages under the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 which states that any service provider should undertake work with ‘reasonable skill and care’.

And unhygienic studios could be prosecuting under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

But there is very little overarching legislation that oversees the tattooing industry, and this is something that celebrity tattooist Kevin Paul is trying to remedy with his campaign Tattoo Regulations 2013.

Stories of poor artwork by scratchers (untrained tattooists), infections caused by unhygienic practices and illegal tattoos being carried out on underage clients compelled Derby-based Kevin to campaign for safer procedures in the industry.

He said: “Something needs to be done – some people don’t want to pay tax or overhead costs, don’t want to be regulated and don’t want to be sterile, resulting in bad artwork.

“We have to stand by the consequences.”

The only law that specifically deals with this body art is the Tattooing of Minors Act 1969, this 44-year-old piece of legislation states that the person receiving the tattoo must be over the age of 18.

But beyond that there isn’t a comprehensive legal framework specifically for the regulation of tattoo procedures.

“Nowadays you need to be an artist. Anyone with no artistic ability has no place in the industry – people assume they are professional,” he said.

“A lot of people are saying that it’s a case of double standards – with me being self-taught –but I was shown how to do it right by professional artists at trade shows.”

It’s not just Kevin who is campaigning for such legislation; he also has the backing of celebrity clients including Ed Sheeran, JLS and Gabrielle who have experienced poor artwork in the past and went to Kevin for corrective work.

North West-based beautician Alison McMath, who carries out permanent make-up procedures, also supports the campaign.

She said: “I definitely agree there should be proper legislation  tattooing is so popular right now and there are tattoo studios and permanent makeup techs popping up everywhere.

“Legislation sets a standard, shows professionalism and gives prospective customers more confidence that you care about their health and safety.”

Taking the phrase ‘I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine’ to a whole new level, Kevin has also had to educate people about the perils of DIY tattooing.  

“Harry Styles let his friend tattoo him with a machine he bought off Ebay. I had to sit him down and explain the dangers – since then he’s had all art work done professionally,” he said.

Kevin has collated several examples of people who have had bad tattoo experiences for the campaign, this ranges from unprofessional design work, to more serious infections.

BADLY DRAWN BOY: Examples of poor tattoo work gathered by the campaign

However it’s not all doom and gloom.

Of the 20million tattooed Brits a large proportion who did their homework and chose a reputable artist are delighted with the results.

University of Manchester postgraduate student and freelance writer Becca Day-Preston, 26, explained her love-hate relationship with her tattoos.

She said: “I loathe the tattoos I got when I was 18 and love the tattoos I got when I was 24.

“My first two are very much My First Inkings; a cluster of stars and some kind of semi-tribal monstrosity, both done on impulse in less than salubrious tattoo parlours.

“If I could turn back time, I’d tell my 18-year-old self not to be so bloody daft.

“The two I love, I spent a good year thinking about, and had them custom designed by a tattoo artist that I trusted.

“They are dinosaurs; a t-rex on one ankle and a t-rex skeleton on the opposite ankle. After two years, I have no regrets.

“In terms of regulation, it’s tough. It’s legal to get a tattoo at 18, but is it wise?

“From my experience and the experiences of my friends, I don’t think so.

“I think people need to fix their attitudes towards tattoos, maybe waiting just another couple of years and having frank discussions with tattoo artists to make sure they won’t regret it.

“I love the idea that in 40 years’ time, the elderly population is going to be covered in tattoos. I bet my dinosaurs will look terrible by then, but who cares?”

Louise Nelhams, 37, a Leeds-based copywriter has had a similar experience to Becca, and is a staunch advocate of regulation.

She said: “I think the industry has to be regulated  it’s not just about people potentially being left with indelible reminders of terrible workmanship, but also about underage tattooing and, most importantly, health and safety.

“Poor hygiene, cross-contamination, bad or lack of after-care advice can all have a serious impact on customers.

“I’ve seen some truly hideous attempts at body art and have met people in the past who live with bitter regret about their choice of tattooist. 

“The ones I love inspire these feelings because of the quality of the work and the reasons I chose them.

“The one I loathe was the result of a rush decision and a rush job by a guy who clearly wasn’t that interested in the outcome and just saw me as a way of making an extra fast buck.

“Think about it, someone is puncturing your skin repeatedly with a needle  of course it should be regulated!”

Until such legislation is introduced Kevin urges those thinking about getting a tattoo to do their research beforehand.

“Research studios and artists. I’d travel hundreds of miles for a great tattoo – look at their portfolios and other artwork they’ve done online,” he said.

He is currently working with MPs in the hope of putting tattoo safety law onto the statute book.

For more information about the campaign click here.  

Image courtesy of KevinPaulTattoo via YouTube, with thanks.

Pictures courtesy of Tattoo Regulations 2013 via Facebook, with thanks

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