Thorn and Les are a charming couple with a varied collection of tattoos and some good stories to boot. Thorn was twelve weeks pregnant at the time of this photoshoot, and the follow up shots make the feature a rather special one for them both. The two of them met through Les’s sister when she found out that both Thorn and Les were vegetarians and the rest, as they say, is present history…
Where were you born and what do you best remember about your childhood?
I was actually born in Margate hospital and grew up in Ramsgate. Growing up there was quite nice as the town is situated by the sea, so during the summer holidays I used to spend most days at the beach. My mum always said I reminded her of a mermaid when she watched me swimming in the sea. Aside from spending so much time at the beach, I also enjoyed visiting Dreamland, where I would often ride the Mary Rose and Waltzers and eat too much candyfloss and chips.
The aspect of my childhood that I remember most was my singing and dancing, which I was always doing. My friend and I used to put on shows and make our families watch as we danced in our ever so trendy 80s puff ball dresses with bad make up and side pony tails. All I can say is that I’m really glad no one ever had a camcorder in those days. It makes me cringe to think about it now, but at the time, I loved it. I should add that I was only 6 or 7 at the time and the clothes we wore had been chosen by our mother, who had the world’s worst fashion sense. After all it was the 80s and fashion icons at the time were Boy George, Cindy Lauper and Pete Burns.
What other interests or aspirations did you have?
As a child, it was always swimming and dancing. I always wanted to be a lifeguard and had all of my medals. I also wanted to be a dancer and used to attend a dance school close to where I lived. I went there from the age of 8 years old and stopped when I was 12 as the school unfortunately closed down. As there was no alternative dance school in the area, my dancing fizzled out but my love of dance continued. As a teenager, there was nothing much to do around the area and the majority of my younger teenage activities involved alcohol, the park and the beach. I hate to think just how many times I stumbled home drunk and tried to act ‘normal’ when my parents asked me if I’d had a nice time and where I’d been. I’m sure they knew, seeing that I was probably swaying on the spot and smelling of cider and cheap wine.
At the age of 13, I discovered Camden and used to go there on the train at weekends with my friends. It was a real eye-opener for me, as I had never seen so many alternative people in one place before, and I loved it. I used to get into trouble for going there though - we usually told our parents we were going to Canterbury but got caught out so many times.
Can you remember when you first became interested in tattoos and when you got your first work done?
I think it was when I was studying art, as I had bought a few tattoo mags for inspiration and had been amazed at what I saw. Prior to that, I’d never really seen anyone with heavy coverage. I’d obviously seen people with tattoos before but had never paid much attention to them. I was about 16 when I first saw the magazines and I wanted to get tattooed ever since that time. Unfortunately I got into a relationship with a person who was very oppressive and he hated tattoos and piercings. He freaked when I got my lip pierced and wouldn’t let me have any more. He wouldn’t let me wear sexy clothes and didn’t like anything alternative. Looking back, I was stupid to have stayed with him, but I had very low self-esteem. My parents were very straight-laced as well, so they frowned on me doing anything different. My granddad also lived with us and he was a very loud, devout Christian and used to preach to us quite a lot. All of this combined made me a very timid, shy person and I did what others wanted in order to have an easy life. So it wasn’t until I was 23 that I had my first tattoo after leaving my ex and meeting Les, who was the complete opposite to my last partner.
In terms of your tattoos, why did you choose the designs that you now have and do they have any particular significance other than their aesthetic value?
I started my sleeves off with my Rag Dolly Anna on my right arm. She’s basically a drawing of a childhood toy that I used to carry with me everywhere I went and told all of my innermost secrets to. I still have her now, and as silly as it sounds, she is still important to me, which is basically why I had her image tattooed onto me. I had a boy version of a rag doll on my left arm and it does sort of look like Les, so now everybody thinks that they are cartoon versions of him and me, which I think is sweet. I’d like to say that it was a deliberate thing, but in reality, it just worked out that way. I have pink leopard print added to my right arm as I love all things retro and kitsch and I have also added flowers and skulls with bows to keep it nice and girly. I chose the wings on my back not only because I think they are really pretty but also because they represented freedom.
What plans do you have to get more tattoo work in the future?
I’m in two minds about this. I still need to get my arms finished and I would like to extend the work to ¾ sleeves but I’m not 100% sure about that yet. I do want to have my leopard print brightened up with Starbrite inks so the colours are really vivid as opposed to the pastel shades I have at the moment. I have also considered having some work on my legs but am not completely sure about that either.
I know that you have four children and are currently expecting another. What would you like to say about your kids and your role as a mother?
Well, I have 2 boys and 2 girls and when I did this photoshoot I was 12 weeks pregnant. My eldest son is called Kai and he is 8, then I have a daughter, Jade, who is 7 and a daughter Bliss, who is 5. Lastly, there is Gambit who is just 20 months old. My three eldest children are from my previous relationship and Gambit I had with Les, although Les has taken the others on as if they were his own and is their dad in every way he can be. I’m just a normal mum really. I take them to school, swimming, and out to play. The only real difference is that I don’t look the same as the other mums!
How long have you known Les and how did you two meet?
I’ve been with Les for nearly 3 years now. I was introduced met to him through his sister who I met when we were both doing a course in theatrical makeup. I was talking about being a vegetarian and she told me that her brother was too, she thought we would get on well and suggested that we meet. I was really dubious as I wasn’t expecting Les to be the way he is as his sister is a real chav, so I thought he’d be a Reebok wearer with a couple of tattoos. Luckily he wasn’t. The first time I saw him he had a bright blond Mohican and a cheeky smile and I was smitten - God I sound all sappy saying that!
You have done a bit of modelling and often appear in Bizarre. How did the modelling start and what have been the best and worst aspects of it to date?
I started modelling not long after I met Les. I was approached by a local photographer who asked me to pose for him, and with Les’s support, I went for it. Although looking back at the photos I got from the first shoot, I realise that they weren’t great but having them taken really did help enhance my self-esteem. I enjoyed the experience of posing and was soon approached by other photographers. The best experience that has arisen in terms of modelling was when I appeared at the London Alternative Fashion week wearing outfits by Funky Homosapien. It was really nerve-wracking but it was a great feeling to be walking down the catwalk with all of the camera flashes going off.
I have also enjoyed being in Bizarre magazine, although they did make me flash my bum at a donkey for a feature on Margate…that was certainly a new experience for me. I love to meet new people through my modelling work, be it other photographers or other models that I may pose with. I also love to go the new places for the shoots.
The worst aspect about modelling is that it can make me feel really bad about the way I look. I’m not the world’s most confident person and if I get rejected for a shoot, I take it really personally. I also get very frustrated with the industry as some of the people involved can be so backwards in their opinion. They see that you have tattoos and automatically turn you down as they feel that tattoos are not mainstream enough, and don’t sell, but then hire another model with a small tattoo on her back. That annoys me, as if tattoos don’t sell - it’s no different if the model has a full backpiece or a small tribal strip. A tattoo is still a tattoo.
Nowadays there is a huge pressure on both men and women to look good and that is especially prevalent in the modelling industry. Given the fact that you are not that self confident, how do you cope with that pressure?
I try not to let it get to me and I just try to be myself. I understand that it is impossible to please everyone so I look and dress in a way that makes me feel good. I could change my hair colour to blend in but that just wouldn’t be me and I wouldn’t feel comfortable. Taste is such a personal thing that however you present yourself, you can almost guarantee that someone out there won’t like it. Of course, it’s fantastic when you get positive feedback on how you look, on the other hand, it’s a killer when somebody criticises you, so that’s why I try to just go with what makes me feel the best and ignore what other people might say about me.
Have your tattoos helped in terms of your self-esteem and body image and have they helped or hindered your modelling career?
From a personal perspective my tattoos have helped me. I have wanted them for so long and I would not want to be without them. It’s nice when people compliment me on them and I find they are a great icebreaker when I’m out and about.
Modelling wise, they have definitely not helped me much; in fact they have lost me quite a few jobs. Like I said before, they aren’t considered mainstream by a lot of people. It surprises me though when so-called ‘fetish photographers’ decline to use tattooed models, preferring to book more traditional ‘glamour’ models for their work, when, in my opinion, an alternative model might better suit that style.
Modelling now seems to have become a major part of your life. What plans do you have for continuing it in the future?
I do enjoy modelling and will continue but I think that I’ll only take the work that appeals to me rather than trying to crack the mainstream market. I do like to pose for pictures with fake blood and other stuff and will definitely do more in that style. Les likes to take that sort of image and is a dab hand with food dye and syrup and that’s something that a bit of fun for us to create together.
Aside from tattoos and modelling, what other interests do you have or do your children take up the majority of your spare time?
My kids do take up a lot of my time and it’s often a struggle to have time to myself. It’s especially hard to have a night out with Les, as one of us is normally looking after the kids so that the other can go out.
My mum is a great help and babysits for us a lot. I have recently started a BTEC Diploma in Performing Arts and have to attend college 4 days a week. This means it's awkward to ask mum to babysit the kids of an evening as well.
What makes you happy?
What makes me happy? Well, I still love to dance and I’m really enjoying my course. I am hoping to get the part of the fairy godmother when we cover Cinderella later in the year.
Is there anything else that you would like to tell us?
I’d just like to say thanks for having me, and also to say thank you to Ashley for taking such nice pictures of me and for being so lovely.
When did you first start getting tattooed?
I was really young and had my first tattoo at the age of 13. What can I say, I looked older - that might have been due to the uphill paper round I did in the snow! The first design I chose was a Taurus the bull design on my calf.
Since that time you have become quite heavily inked. How did the work progress and what was the theme and inspirations behind the designs?
I now have full sleeves as well as a chestpiece; I also have my stomach and both thighs tattooed, and a half leg piece. My arms are good and evil-themed. One arm depicts water with dolphins, koi carp and Jesus and is done mainly in pastel colours. The other arm has layers of brightly coloured flames with evil clowns, demons and devils. My chest is just a combination of this with the fire and water on opposite sides and a modern twist on a sacred heart design.
My leg piece is for my son, Gambit, named after the X-Men character…yes, I admit it, I’m a comic book nerd.
Who are the artists and what made you choose them?
The majority of my work has been done by Ray Hunt at Medway Tattoo. I chose him as I really liked his style and the work I saw in his portfolio. It was in passing that I saw a new studio opening and I just popped and spoke about a design I liked. Ray was so enthusiastic and gave some great input in order to ensure that it would suit me perfectly. Other artists who have worked on me include Bobby Swallow and my Gambit design was tattooed by an artist from Dover called Jim, this came about through the recommendation of a friend.
What plans do you have for the future in terms of your tatts and life in general?
Tattoo wise, I’m basically going to keep on until I have a body suit. As soon as we find out the sex of our next baby, I can start designing the tattoo for my other leg. In life I prefer not to plan too far ahead, so I guess all I can say is that I intend to carry on working as a builder and hopefully have some good times along the way.