From humble beginnings, Kevin Paul has risen to become a hugely prominent tattoo artist with clients including Harry Styles and Ed Sheeran. With a passion for improving tattoo safety standards that has seen him feature on BBC News and Daybreak, The Edge caught up with him to talk about his work for Channel 5’s new documentary.
First off, thank you for taking the time to chat with us. You’re about to star in Channel 5’s Tattoo Disasters so can you tell us a bit about the premise of the show?
Well, I have been asked to take part in most of the tattoo shows that get made in the UK but I never did as I felt they were making a joke of tattooed people. Not everybody who gets inked is an idiot. I tattoo people from all walks of life from factory workers to millionaires. When Channel 5 called me about working with them on the show they were making for Spike UK, they told me they wanted to show the good and the bad of getting tattooed. It was important to me that the show was put together well and showed the real facts behind getting tattooed. My main role in the show is to fix bad tattoos that people are ashamed to show in public. Most of the people have been told the bad tattoo can’t be covered until they meet me.
How long have you been tattooing?
I started tattooing when I was 13; I’m now 36. It has just been something I have always loved – I’m just lucky it became a good job.
And what would you say is unique about your style?
It’s hard to say what my style is anymore. I was always known for dark images, stuff like H.R. Giger, but since doing all the celeb stuff my reputation for the darker imagery really dropped. I still do realistic work, just not as much dark art anymore; it’s more portrait stuff now.
How many tattoos do you personally have and what is your favourite?
It’s too hard to say how many I have – most of my head, neck, arms, back, front and legs – I’m covered and I still hate getting done! I think my favourite tats would be the ones for my boys. I have a heart on each side of my head for them and portraits of them both.
Conversely, what’s been your favourite design to tattoo on someone else?
I get asked this a lot I don’t really know. I’ve done so many tattoos over the years but I really love the art my wife had for my boys.
Your new autobiography, A Sketchy Life: From Trouble to Notoriety, is all about your life moving from crime and drugs to artistic notoriety. What is something that we’d learn about you by reading the book that we wouldn’t expect?
I think the book shocks most people from start to end! Nobody really knows anything about me; they just see what goes in the papers. I got kidnapped when I was 17 by drug dealers after getting involved with some dodgy people. I also put a lot about what I have seen in the entertainment world. Everybody thinks it’s all fun and games but it’s far from that. I found it a really sad place to be for most of the acts.
Who was the first celebrity you tattoo’d?
The first mainstream act was Rizzle Kicks. They were great guys, I owe them big time.
The book also depicts a frank exploration of the escapades of the rich and famous. What would you say is the most outrageous thing you’ve witnessed and who was the celebrity involved?
The most shocking thing was an act and his mate sleeping with a female copper backstage but I’m not going to give his name. I’ve seen a lot of stuff go down backstage.
You’ve been on tour with Rihanna, Ed Sheeran and even some X Factor contestants so what tattoos of theirs would we recognise?
I never tattooed Rihanna, I just went on tour with her. I have done most of Ed Sheeran’s stuff and I did 17 black and Pingu on Harry Styles. Sometimes I lose count of the acts I have done. There are some acts that never wanted it made public that I have worked with them. I find their work the funniest because nobody knows it was me.
Were any of them particularly hard to work with?
Dappy is hard because you have to keep him in the chair. He’s like a hyper dog; he just can’t keep still! I find Ed is hardcore when it comes to getting inked – he sits for hours.
What about this tattoo show is different from others we may have seen such as Tattoos After Dark?
This show is about showing the public what can go wrong if you don’t go to a pro. It also shows how to cover almost anything if you have made mistakes with your tattoos. Most shows on TV are just about finding stupid people getting bad tattoos. This show shows how to sort the problems out.
What made you want to get involved with the show?
I did this show because they were happy for me to really get involved with the making of it. I just wanted to show the public the facts behind getting inked and hopefully stop people letting their mates tattoo them in their bedrooms.
Finally, what for you has been the biggest surprise along your journey from a fairly rough start to now putting art on famous people’s bodies?
I don’t really know. I was shocked by what a bitter and lonely place being a celeb can be. I also learned to believe in karma – that rules my whole life now. It’s a big part of my book and it gives you an understanding of why I think that way.
Tattoo Disasters is on Channel 5 Tuesdays at 9:00pm.