Published: 12 July, 2010 - Featured in Skin Deep 181, January, 2010

Thamsin seems to have had the ‘ink calling’ from a very early age. As most of her friends went off doing adolescent things, she was on a one-girl mission to shock her peers and get tattooed.

As her somewhat eventful life opened up, Tham felt a little concerned as to how folk might perceive her tattoos so she slowed up a little on the collection for a short while. Soon, Thamsin realised that no matter what you do in life, people will judge you regardless so armed with this liberating view on her tattoos; she jumped in headfirst into getting a full Japanese back piece, started by Ade in Brighton and completed by Jon Nott.

"I’ve lived in Guildford for most of my life, but went to boarding schools all over the South East. I have always felt a little jealous of some of my friends who still have school buddies. I went to eight schools altogether ranging from a two year stay to a ‘one termer’ and therefore found it very difficult to form life-long friendships.  At fifteen my parents decided it would be a good idea to move up to Norfolk, and I decided that I wanted to leave my all-girls boarding school in Littlehampton and join Thetford Grammar – a mixed day school. As you can imagine, I was suddenly immersed in a whole new world of boys, make-up, pubs etc. and my exam results clearly demonstrated that! After being called ‘London overspill’ for seven years I finally got to move back to Guildford, where I have stayed ever since! Luckily, I have also managed to leave behind most of my adolescent cock-ups and hideous boyfriends too, so I never have to worry about being reminded of them again. Although any time someone mentions the Air force base in Lakenheath I shudder – just a little!


From around the age of eleven, I started drawing tattoos. Where most of my friends had Duran Duran and SWALK written on their pencil cases, I had swallows and hearts!  I would spend hours in class drawing intricate designs on my hands and arms – mostly hot rod / sailor jerry style, and tell people on a daily basis how I was definitely going to get a tattoo. There was a guy in the year above who I thought was amazing, and one day when I was boring everyone senseless with my tattoo aspirations, he turned round and told me to shut up because I would never be brave enough to get one!


That afternoon I turned up in school uniform at a home tattoo studio in Thetford, heart thumping, and knocked on the (what seemed huge) black door, hoping and praying that no one would be in. The tattooist answered and ushered me in. I quickly picked a unicorn’s head, which cost me £5 and had it tattooed on my right shoulder blade.  Forty-five minutes later, at the grand age of fifteen I proudly walked out with my first tattoo.


Keen to show everyone at school just how ‘cool’ I was, I flaunted myself to anyone who would look, desperate for my ‘crush’ to notice. When he did, he looked at me as if I was the scourge of the earth, and told me I was even more stupid for getting it done! From that point on, I vowed to continue to paint my skin, pierce my body and truly enjoy the fact that I would never be one of the ‘socially acceptable’ people if he was the benchmark!  Crush over! I think he went on to be a lawyer, is probably married to a fat moody wife, has spoilt petulant children and a crap sex life. Or at least I hope….


My job history is just another example of how strange life’s journey is. When I was younger I had great dreams of being an artist / actress / bohemian jewellery maker – in fact anything that let me demonstrate my inner self!  At seventeen I realised what a pile of crap that was, and that if I wanted to actually earn any decent money I need to be multi lingual, office compliant and able to communicate with narrow minded bigots! So I started on a host of A-levels and secretarial exams. Unfortunately at 18 I got really sick. In December 1990 I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease (lymphatic cancer) and advised that because my cancer was so far advanced I may not survive longer than the week. Life changing in every conceivable way!


After a year of intensive chemo, losing my dignity, my looks, my natural ability to achieve everything I set out to do (had to take my A-levels whilst receiving treatment and as a result only passed the one), trying to take my life on several occasions and never ever feeling so alone – I emerged with a new take on life. And I truly get up every morning to this day, and appreciate the fact that I’m still here! And I’m having a bloody brilliant time!


I work on implementing a drug related crime reduction programme across the South East. This programme was set up to identify chaotic drug users who are forced to commit crimes in order to fund a habit. Instead of the draconian ‘mummy knows best’ way of arrest, prison and then back to the same sofa/crack house you came from – through this programme assessments are made in the custody suite, followed by a tailored support package of treatment, prescriptions and other provision such as dual diagnosis. This support is continued if you get sent to prison, with the key aim of rehabilitation once you leave, which involves housing, training and ultimately employment. No one ever starts their life with the ambition of getting strung up on drugs, losing everything you’ve owned and everyone you’ve known. Most substance miss-users have found themselves in this situation due to damaging experiences and mistrust, and desperately want stability back in their life.


My biggest interest at the moment is going out with my group of friends and having loads of fun (yes, getting messy)! When I was in school, I often thought that when I was twenty-six I would be married with kids and living in a four-bedroom house. How funny that I should find myself at thirty-seven, divorced, childless, living in a two bed town house and going out every weekend and getting wasted! Mind you, I did ‘live the dream’ for around four years and have never been so bored in my life! Got fat and had a crap sex life. And no, I didn’t marry the lawyer from school! Ha ha. Just goes to show that no one should really ever take life seriously!


I love my family. Truly. We all seem to have adopted a very ‘Kray’ style approach when it comes to defending each other. My brothers and I spend a lot of time together, and have no problem with telling each other upsetting truths. But God help anyone who upsets or mistreats one of us, as we tend to form a fearful attacking line! Our mother has been on a pedestal ever since she raised us for eight years on her own; we all respect her tremendously and are extremely protective.


So, onto my tattoo journey.  After my first sticker book tattoo, I went back to the same guy to get another unicorn on my hip, which now after all these years’ looks like a fat ‘my little pony’!  It’s the only tattoo that Jon - the Grand Master – Nott, refuses to cover up, as he believes I need to be consistently reminded of making bad choices! He then put a dragon on my right thigh, but made a couple of mistakes due to the fact that he was too busy chatting up my mate – not really painting a great picture of him am I?


I then started to get a little braver (was now eighteen) and went to Ely to get my original shoulder tattoo enlarged with a flower and then went to see Rabbit in Lakenheath (Grin ‘n’ Wear It) to gets stars, clouds and a rainbow added to it. I always remember Rabbit’s studio - he had a pin board with photographs of people who had turned green whilst getting tattooed. I took a boyfriend along with me one day to get his first piece done, and was horrified to see him take a similar turn. I’m sure I dumped him the same day!


Next on my list was an ankle tattoo done in Southsea and a tribal symbol on the base of my back done in Woking. A dragon armband was added whilst I was in Ibiza. It was this tattoo that finally led me to the studio I have now committed the rest of my life and body to. I wanted to get more work done to the top of my arm (where the band was) so I went into Trollspeil in Guildford (as it was formally known – Now Bespoke Tattoo Company) and chose another Dragon. Whilst Becks was tattooing me, I was listening to a private (oops) conversation between Ade and Jon around how uninspiring they found old flash work to be, and how some people ended up looking like sticker books. I walked away that day realising that I had unintentionally fallen into that category and the only thing that had stopped me from getting bigger custom work was fear that people would judge me. What a shit reason! People will judge you if they are insecure, narrow-minded or ignorant. It has nothing to do with the way you look.


Armed with my new attitude, I went to speak to Ade about working on a full back piece, covering up my pretty bodged and jumbled shoulder. I wanted the centre point to represent how I survived my cancer, and how I had renewed my life and attitude after the treatment – a phoenix bird seemed the obvious answer! Three hours every month and five months later, I had the full bird. By this point, I realised that a full Japanese back piece was the only way forward and the design started to grow. Ade by this stage had decided to move back to the Nine tattoo studio in Brighton (formally Temple Tattoo) as he was commuting to Guildford 3 times a week and getting pretty tired of it. I then proceeded to plead with Jon Nott (the owner and Grand Master) to continue my work, as I didn’t want to travel to Brighton every month.


I’m now four years in, with over a hundred hours of ink and I’m so proud I took that decision in life to follow my heart. Trollspeil is now called Bespoke Tattoo by Jon Nott and is fast becoming my second home. I believe I have around another fifty or sixty hours left to go, and them I’m pretty sure once the suit is finished, my tattoo journey would have come to an end.  Maybe some more branding though…


My latest ink edition is a fantastic arm cuff, which was done by bamboo in Thailand by an amazing individual called Green; I was really pleased I got that done; the experience is something I’ll never forget!"


Photography and Interview: Ashley.


Skin Deep 181 1 January 2010 181