Filming the latest series of Channel 4's Bodyshockers has given new mum Katie Piper plenty to think about
'The thought of my daughter getting a tattoo of a scorpion is terrible but it's her body so it would be her decision'
After giving birth to daughter Belle last March, presenter and charity campaigner Katie Piper was looking forward to a productive maternity leave.
"I remember thinking, 'I'll catch up with all my emails, I'll make a few photo albums, probably give myself a pedicure, sort out my clothes drawer'," the 31-year-old says with a smile.
"Then when I had her it was like, 'No, you can't do anything!' It really opened my eyes to how being a mum is a full-time job."
Belle is sleeping through the night now, and Piper - who recently got engaged to carpenter boyfriend James - is back to TV presenting duties, looking glamorous in monochrome and stilettos, as she promotes her current show ("I was thinking about bringing Belle with me today, but she's quite active now," she reveals).
It's almost seven years since the former aspiring model was left severely scarred and in need of numerous operations after a horrific acid attack, organised by a man who'd previously assaulted her in a hotel room.
Piper bravely shared her story in the Bafta-nominated documentary, Katie Piper: My Beautiful Face in 2009, and in the same year, set up The Katie Piper Foundation to help others living with burns and scars.
She's appeared in various programmes since then, penned several books and can currently be seen on screen in the second series of Bodyshockers, the Channel 4 series exploring the craze for body modification.
In the latest instalment - Nips, Tucks And Tattoos - she meets people who regret their procedures, and introduces them to others considering similar changes.
"When we came to film a second series, I thought, 'Well, surely we've covered everything', but people came pouring in, because it's becoming mainstream," she says.
"You can go into a shop and be served by someone with (tattoo) sleeves, and wouldn't think that's very alternative. People are pushing the boundaries - tattooing the eyeballs, inside the lip ..."
Hampshire-born Piper laughs as she reveals she dabbled with different looks in her teens, but nothing as dramatic as what we see in the show.
"In the Eighties and Nineties, we'd experiment with hair dyes, maybe get our ears pierced, or tie-dye clothes.
"And now life's moved on and it's much more accessible to tattoo yourself with a gun off the internet, or (get a huge tattoo and) pay it off monthly," she notes.
"We're losing perspective of how invasive and permanent these things are.
"The person we are in our teens and 20s isn't the person we're going to be for the rest of our lives. And their career aspirations might not be the same for the rest of their lives."
It must be tempting to talk the programme's subjects out of going any further.
"It's not set up to be critical or judgmental, because for a lot of people, tattooing and modification is a form of expression, and I think it is art, it's quite a beautiful thing," says Piper.
"But it's about trying to intervene if people are following a celebrity or following fashion, or doing it on a whim without researching, and saying, 'Let's keep it in perspective'. The human body is an amazing thing, it can heal and cope with knocks and bashes, but don't use yourself as a canvas if it's not thought out."
So what will Piper do if Belle wants to dabble in tattooing or piercings when she grows up?
"Holding her now, especially when she's just had a bath and she's in her little towel, her skin's like velvet with chubby little wrists and legs," the presenter says, smiling.
"The thought of her tattooing a scorpion up her side is terrible!
"But, it would be entirely up to her, and if she had a tattoo, I don't think I would tell her off. It's her body, her decision."
Belle has already met people from all walks of life, having accompanied her mum to charity workshops and events. "She's met people with disabilities, burns, scars," Piper adds.
"I want her to grow up respecting her body and herself. I can't live her life for her, she's got to make her own mistakes. So fingers crossed!"
The tot has also met famous faces including Simon Cowell, a patron of Piper's foundation, and his new son Eric, born last February.
"Simon's still a massive supporter of the charity," says Piper.
"I took some burns survivors to The X Factor. Lauren Silverman (Cowell's girlfriend) invited us down, she's been a really big supporter of the charity too.
"She's so down to earth, so lovely, and obviously us having babies at the same time is quite nice."
Piper is clearly passionate about her charity work and sharing her experiences with others, but she's welcomed the opportunity to shift the focus away from herself through Bodyshockers.
"It's really exciting working on different pilots and ideas, and it's nice to be in a different space of not just making documentaries about my story or burns and disfigurement."
She's still regularly approached by people who can relate to her story and have experienced their own challenges or traumas.
"It's not like being a celebrity; it's more like being a hairdresser. People tell you really private things, which is a privilege," she says.
"It's an eye-opener to the evil in the world, but then also the human strength and spirit we all carry."
- Bodyshockers: Nips, Tucks And Tattoos is on Channel 4 on Mondays, at 10pm
Meet the local women who love body art
Maureen Coleman speaks to three ladies who say their tattoos have boosted their self-esteem and are to be celebrated.
Beauty company owner Debbie Hughes Johnston (28) lives in Belfast with her husband Jamie and daughters Ellie, (5), Violet (2) and Sadie (11 months). She says:
I got my first tattoo when I was 21, it’s a full sleeve on my arm of a cherry blossom tree and five hummingbirds. The tattoo was based on a copy of a print I got while travelling in Thailand when I was 18. It’s very personal to me because when I was growing up, we lived in a house called Cherrytree and there are five of us in my family. That tattoo brings back happy memories for me. Including the one on my arm, I have five tattoos in total, one on the top of my back — which my husband and I designed together, and which he also has a tattoo of in the same place — as well as one on the back of each of my legs, which are made up of Geisha symbols relating to my daughters’ birth signs, and then one on the inside of my ankle. It’s a little Volkswagen symbol and I got it done the day before my wedding because my husband and I own a Volkswagen camper van called Bert.
I see my tattoos as an extension of self-expression. I’m a creative person, I went to art college and I love things like fashion, beauty, and design, so having tattoos is just a natural progression for me. I’m lucky to come from an open-minded, modern family who think my tattoos are beautiful and my friends like them too.
While most of the reaction to my tattoos has been positive, I have had people who think it’s their right to come up to me and comment on them. I was in the city centre one day and an older woman came up to me and started saying that it would take thousands of pounds to have my tattoos removed! I’ve also been turned away by two bars in Belfast because my tattoos were on show.
If my daughters say they want to have tattoos done when they’re older, I’ll ask them if they are 100% sure and then I’ll advise them to go somewhere reputable and professional.”
Aine Kelly (33) is a gallery assistant at Lisburn Museum. She lives in Belfast with her partner Ryan and four children Stella (9), Ava (4) and twins Charlie and Cora (15 months). She says:
When I was about 15 or 16 I got my first tattoo done — a white lily on the top of my arm. I was still at school, so it didn’t go down too well with my mum! I have 17 tattoos now and am still building up my collection.
My mum is the only one in the family who doesn’t have a tattoo. My sister has three or four, my brother has five or six, and is still getting them done, and my dad got his first one for his 60th birthday. He says that’s it for him, but I reckon he’ll get one when he turns 70.
I have a list of seven tattoos I want to get done before I turn 40, but I may get even more done after that.
All of my tattoos are very personal to me. I don’t have names of anyone, but I do have things like a star that represents my daughter Stella, for example. I also have things like a dog’s face because I’m an animal lover, and my favourite poem tattooed on my side.
My children really like the tattoos, though the younger ones just like to try and rub them off. If they wanted to have some themselves in years to come, I think I’d be a bit hypocritical to stop them. I do understand now how my mum felt when I got my first one done, though, when I look at their perfect, unblemished skin. But as long as they were totally sure about it and it wasn’t being done on a whim, then I think I’d be fine with it. I’d just want them to be very committed to the design and to be aware of the long-term implications.”
Jessica Odell (39) is an assistant scientific officer, and lives in Lisburn. She says:
I have six tattoos and some of them run into each other. I got my first one done when I was about 21, it’s a combination of a dream catcher and yin and yang symbols on my belly. All of the tattoos have a personal meaning to me and relate to where I was at that time in my life. My favourite is one that isn’t quite finished yet, a red and black dragon from the TV show Game of Thrones, which is covering up an old tiger that I had done on my lower back.
Most of my tattoos aren’t very visible and can be easily hidden so I don’t tend to get much reaction to them. Any reaction I do get is generally positive, although my parents weren’t overly impressed when I got the first one done. I do think it’s addictive, maybe it’s an adrenaline thing too. But for me, it’s a permanent means of self expression. If someone came to me and asked for advice on getting a tattoo done, it would really depend on that person and their age. I think someone at 16 or 17 would be too young, but if they were at the legal age to go for it, then I think I’d probably be encouraging.”
Famous faces who have gone under the needle
Some well-known faces who have displayed their love for body art include:
Cara Delevingne - the British supermodel has an array of quirky inkings, but perhaps the most random is the word 'Bacon' - her favourite meat, apparently - tattooed on the sole of her foot
David Beckham - sizeable swathes of the football star's gym-honed body are covered in tattoos, including the names of his four children and a tribute to wife Victoria on his right hand
Cheryl Fernandez-Versini - the former Girls Aloud star hit the headlines when she replaced a butterfly tattoo on her lower back with a huge inking of entwined red roses stretching across her buttocks
Johnny Depp - the actor was left with a permanent memento when he split up with former fiancée Winona Ryder: a tattoo stating 'Winona Forever'. Depp later had it changed to read 'Wino Forever'.
Angelina Jolie - the actress-turned-director's body is peppered with tattoos, and it appears daughter Zahara has also expressed an interest in getting one - something dad Brad Pitt isn't too happy about. "For some reason, men get a little more sensitive when the daughter gets a tattoo," says Jolie.