More senior citizens turning to tattoos

Ann McDonald. Picture: Comp
Ann McDonald. Picture: Comp
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PERCHED on his shoulder, ready, says television’s elder statesman David Dimbleby, to pounce on his enemies, is a scorpion.

It turns out that it’s his star sign and, rather unfortunately, has six legs instead of the required eight. And it’s there to stay on the 75-year-old presenter’s back, courtesy of a tattoo artist’s pen and ink.

Willie Gray. Picture: Greg Macvean

Willie Gray. Picture: Greg Macvean

With more miles on the clock than might be the norm for most daring to venture into the local ink studio for their first ever stamp, the Question Time presenter seems an unlikely type to embrace the increasingly popular world of the tattoo addict – never mind the equally startling revelation that he seems to be a follower of horoscopes.

Yet he is far from alone. For having spent years feeling social convention or career restrictions meant tattoos were strictly for jolly sailors, tough navvies or, more recently, only for the reckless young, an increasing number of significantly more senior citizens are getting the needle and sporting first-time tats.

Paving the way among the more mature tattoo fans was politician’s wife Judy Steel, who unveiled a leaping pink spotted jaguar tattoo on her shoulder, a reference to husband Lord David’s coat of arms and done to mark her 70th birthday. And, with her gentle English Rose image, actress Felicity Kendal might appear the type to shun the notion of a “tramp stamp”, yet at 66 has just added to the star tattoo she had inked on her foot three years ago with moon and feathers on her calf. She, in turn, inspired former This Morning presenter Fern Britton to head to the tattoo studio aged 53, to have two butterflies etched on her abdomen.

According to Edinburgh tattoo artists, there is a rising trend for more mature clients daring to venture through their doors for the first time – even in their 80s – either keen to be inked in memory of loved ones who have passed away, in a sign of devotion to children or grandchildren, or simply eager to make a bold body art statement of their own.

“We see quite a few people in the 55-plus age group, many of them women who want a little tribute to lost parents or to grandchildren,” says Jack Peppiette of Studio XIII in Jeffrey Street.

“They say it’s more socially 
acceptable. They’ve wanted one for years but it’s only now they’re older they feel they can do it.

“One of my favourite customers was a customer in his 80s who already had a couple of tattoos from years ago when he was a sailor and now wanted all his hands and neck tattooed.”

While that sounds extreme, even for an 80-year-old, his tattoo still can barely match Edinburgh grandmother Ann McDonald – whose entire scalp was tattooed after she lost all of her hair to alopecia. Or the 81-year-old from Norfolk who had Do Not Resuscitate etched on her chest two years ago – a warning to medics should the worst ever occur.

According to a spokeswoman at Love Hate in Newington Road, older visitors are becoming increasingly common and they tend to come back for more. “Recently we had a 71-year-old gentleman come in for his first tattoo and he’s been back five times since.

“Any stigma around having a tattoo when they were younger is gone now and they are less inhibited. They come in playing it safe, often with a son or daughter who already has a tattoo. Then once they decide to go for it, they get more adventurous and really go for it.”

Russ Craig at Dragonheart tattoo studio in Portobello agrees that it’s no longer unusual to see someone of advanced years popping in for a tattoo session.

“I recently had a woman who was 75 years old coming in for her first tattoo.” he recalls. “There have been others, too, they want something like a flower or a bumblebee – usually it’s a very personal design which means something to them.

“Quite often older people want the names of their grandchildren but some will come in and ask for a
design that reflects their service career, an regimental badge or an anchor.”

He says mature first-timers are being encouraged by the younger generation’s easy-going attitude to tattoos, to more high-profile and welcoming tattoo studios and attractive designs.

“Attitudes are so much more relaxed these days,” he adds.

Grandfather-of-five John Howley, whose new tattoos stretch up both arms, agrees the modern vision of tattoos as an artform influenced his decision to get inked. But foremost was his desire to show support to his wife.

John, 72, of Ladywell, had the tattoos done to show support for wife Liz, also 72, who bravely opted for a delicate floral tattoo to cover her mastectomy scars.

“I said if you’re getting one, then I will too,” he recalls. “So my lower arm is Elvis in black leathers from 1968, the upper arm is Elvis from Jailhouse Rock.

“I had the other arm done because I’d been reading about the Battle of Little Big Horn and have so much respect for the Native American Indian, so I’ve got Sitting Bull and an American bald eagle.”

And why now? “There weren’t really that many tattoo shops around when I was younger,” he explains. “And you didn’t see that many people with them. I didn’t have a problem with tattoos, but it just wasn’t really what you did. But today the designs are like art, they are really, really good. And I like them.”

‘It depressed me being bald . . I got fed up with wigs’

FEW tattoos are quite as striking as Burdiehouse grandmother Ann McDonald’s full scalp inking.

The 61-year-old went under the needle for three sessions lasting four hours each, after losing all her hair to alopecia.

And while the £720 design was drastic and eye-wateringly painful, it wasn’t her last episode under the needle – she recently returned to the tattoo studio to have the intricate design coloured and extended to stretch towards her shoulders.

“My hair started falling out a couple of years ago, there was nothing could be done to stop it,” says library cleaner Ann.

“It depressed me being bald. I got fed up with wigs and was looking around the internet to see what other people did to deal with the problem.

“I saw someone with their scalp tattooed and I thought it was perfect.”

Ann had broken with convention nearly 40 years earlier, having had a leopard and cubs tattooed on her arm and two birds on her leg while in her twenties, at a time when women rarely were seen with tattoos.

But even though many young women now regularly go under the needle, Ann says she struggled to find anyone willing to take on such a massive – and striking – tattoo task.

Eventually, Pete Gillespie and son Kevan at Pete’s Tattoo Studio in Dalkeith took up the challenge, inking Ann’s entire head.

The result is a swirling delicate leafy pattern that furls over her forehead, over her crown and past her ears and cost £720.

“It is quite extreme,” she agrees, “and I can’t lie, it did hurt. But I knew it was what I wanted and I’m really happy with it.”

While her husband, Ian, 68, has given the tattoo his thumbs up, he’s so far resisted the urge to join Ann with a stamp of his own.

“He actually doesn’t really like tattoos,” she laughs.