Published: 24 November, 2009 - Featured in Skin Deep 143, March, 2007

An interview with Paula....


What were your interests as child and what did you think or hope that you would do for a career when you grew up?

I had a fairly conventional childhood. I played with dolls and like dressing up. I spent the weekends with my dad and enjoyed nothing more than looking at his tattoos and picking dried glue off of him and my uncle when they came home from work. My uncle has 2 tattoos, a West Ham badge and a panther. As a child I supported West Ham, so I thought his tattoo was really cool!

My dad, however, has 22 tattoos. I know this because I loved counting them, my favourites were his “Hey You, Who Me? Mice, and the cherub with my name and D.O.B. under it. I suppose this is where my interest in tattoos first came from. As for piercings, I didn’t really have a great deal of exposure to them until I was 14 and decided that I wanted my belly button pierced. My mum took me to get it done, I was so scared it was going to hurt that I made the piercer freeze it with the spray three times, although l would not recommend freezing it or being pierced at 14 now! By the time the spray had worn off I felt sick and was in a lot of pain, so that put me off getting pierced for a long time.

You now work as both a nurse and a body piercer. How has your conventional medical training helped in the preparation, practice and aftercare procedures associated with piercing?

In hospital we use mainly a non-touch technique rather than a sterile technique for everyday procedures on the ward. This means that we do not touch key points of the equipment, in order to keep them sterile. I have found that this is very helpful when piercing, as sterile gloves are rarely used and the environment is more clinically clean than sterile.   

As I work in paediatrics, we very rarely stick needles into our patients, that is more often that not a doctors job, so apart from the occasional insulin injection or blood sugar checking, sticking needles into people was a completely new and pretty scary experience. I don’t enjoy hurting people but it is a means to an end in both professions. It is, however, a very different procedure for each job. You don’t have to worry if your injection is straight or looks nice, whereas, when piercing, this is of paramount importance. If the piercing is off kilter or not just quite right, it can affect the person psychologically, especially if they are left with horrible scars, which are then your fault.   

Has your training as a nurse ever caused conflicts when you have been asked to perform any of the more extreme piercings, some of which are still not favoured by all healthcare professionals?

I have only been able to pierce on my own for a year and a half, so I haven’t really done many extreme piercings as such. If I had, however, I think that my nursing background would definitely be of help to me. I would be able to research the safest ways in order to carry out the piercing and use my medical training to full benefit. I would also be able to use not only Simon, (Captain Howdy), my mentor, as a reference, but my hospital colleagues too. I feel that, at the end of the day, you should be able to do as you wish with your body, so if someone wants extreme piercings, they should go for it, and, as a piercer, I would endeavour to find out as much as I could to ensure that the procedure was done in the safest possible way.


Having worked on both sides of the divide, namely conventional medicine and body modification, what is your opinion concerning risk factors and other problems associated with body mods?

Working on a children’s ward means that I only see piercings that have been carried out on underage children, often these piercings are incorrectly placed and infected, this comes as no surprise as they sit there fiddling with them with dirty hands. I do try and give them advice, but often they don’t listen as I’m seen as a figure of authority and am not at all cool enough to know anything about piercings! But often they will tell me that they’ve been given some hydrogen peroxide and told to clean their piercings once a day for the first few days. It is no wonder that the piercing profession gets a bad name when there are people out there piercing minors and not giving them the correct aftercare advice.

The main risk factor with piercings is infection, if you go to a reputable piercer and care for your piercing as instructed, this risk should not really be applicable. Other problems could include how society perceives your chosen body mod, my implants and tattoo are on show when I’m at work and are often commented upon. Generally, people quite like my tattoo, although many don’t believe its real! My implants, however, are a different story, and although I love them, lots of people find them horrible and weird and often ask the immortal question, why? The only reply I can give is that I like them, which many find very odd. You just have to make sure that if you are choosing a more extreme body mod, you really do want it and that you are prepared to have people stare and ask questions. My family don’t really like them but they have just had to get used to them.

Nowadays more and more people want to become pirercers or tattooists and apprenticeships are few and far between. What difficulties did you have in securing an apprenticeship and how did that come about?

I was very lucky with my apprenticeship; I was in the right place at the right time. Half way through my nurse training I decided I wasn’t happy and wanted to do something else as well. I had recently met Simon and Alex, they were both so passionate about their careers, I wondered what all the fuss was about, so I started researching the history of body modification and the different things that were being done and found out that I wanted to be a part of it. I didn’t tell anyone to start with as I wanted to make sure this was something I really wanted to do. I continued to learn about the theory on my own, and then one day decided that I needed help and the opportunity to put that theory into practice. I approached Simon to see if he would be prepared to apprentice me. The studio he was working in at the time, did not have any apprenticeships available at the time, but Simon said he would teach me at home, he only lived 6 doors away, so that wasn’t a problem.   

At the same point in time, one of our mutual friends, Dan Stone, was in the process of buying his own studio and needed a piercer, it was agreed that Simon would apprentice me there on Sundays, and then I would work there part time. Simon ended up working there full time, so I was able to go there on my days off from college and thus complete my apprenticeship at Electric Buddha in Ramsgate.
With regard to your own tattoos, what were the inspirations behind the designs and who were the artists who carried out the work?

I had thought about getting tattooed for many years, but I’m very indecisive and would decide on one design then change my mind. I resigned myself to never getting tattooed, but then found myself surrounded by tattooed people and still really wanted one. I’m hopeless at drawing but was quite determined that I wanted something that no one else would ever have. I started to try and design a lower back piece but couldn’t convey what I wanted on to paper. It sounds really lame but I had this dream and in it I had a black tribal piece on my neck when I woke up I could still see the design in my head and decided that I quite liked it, but it was a bit manly and harsh for me. I spoke to a friend of mine and asked him if he‘d draw up my new design, which he subsequently did.   

When it came to having it tattooed on, it was not quite right, so I took the design to Dan Stone, now at Electric Buddha, and he freehanded the bits that weren’t quite right, and then it was perfect. After having my neck done, I focused on the lower back piece that I had originally wanted. I spoke to Dan regarding this and we agreed that he would freehand the whole thing on, so I booked him out for the day a few months later. Finally I wanted the two pieces joined and was going to keep the same design going up my spine with vines, but then I decided that I wanted stars instead to add some colour and incorporate something different into the design.

What made you decide on Dan?

I chose Dan to do the work as I had seen some of his stuff and liked it; he was also very friendly and seemed enthusiastic and willing to work with my ideas.

Do you have plans for more tattoos, if so what might they be?

I did plan on having my feet tattooed with similar designs incorporating some New School as well. I haven’t got around to that yet, but hopefully I will.

Have your tattoos in any way changed the way you feel about your body and what kind of reactions do you get from others who see them?

I love my tattoo and I think that it does make me feel a little less insecure about my body, purely because it draws attention away from the bits I don’t like so much!   

People do comment on it a lot, especially at work. Mostly people ask if its Henna or blood, they don’t believe it’s a real tattoo, as it has no outline or black anywhere. One of my patients wrote me a letter saying that I was ruining my body by having tattoos, implants and piercing. I don’t feel offended by this as he has every right to his opinion, but it can be upsetting when people say nasty things and make assumptions about the person that I am because of the way I have chosen to decorate my body, especially as I don’t feel that I look that different in comparison to some of the people I know. Thankfully that doesn’t happen a lot and most people that I meet are quite open minded.

What would you like to be doing in ten years time in terms of your personal and professional life?

Wow. 10 years is a long time, I’ll be 32!! I suppose I would like to be married with a small brood of children running around. I can’t see piercing as part of my career in the distant future. I plan on travelling soon and would like to pierce whilst I’m abroad. I still have a lot of goals to achieve with regard to nursing and would still like to work in some acute areas in larger London hospitals.


Photography and Interview: Ashley Photographer's Assistant: Michele Martinoli


Skin Deep 143 1 March 2007 143