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Why you're never too old to be a painted lady


Bonnie Turkington aged 44 who owns Birdcage Restaurant on the Stranmillis Road, showing off her tattoo

Bonnie Turkington aged 44 who owns Birdcage Restaurant on the Stranmillis Road, showing off her tattoo

Elizabeth Rice with her spiral designed tattoos

Elizabeth Rice with her spiral designed tattoos

Bernie getting her rainbow tattoo

Bernie getting her rainbow tattoo


Jonie got tattoo at 49

Jonie got tattoo at 49

Brian Thompson


Bonnie Turkington aged 44 who owns Birdcage Restaurant on the Stranmillis Road, showing off her tattoo

Lady Steel caused a stir by getting a tattoo at 70, but local women who have dared to ink tell Kerry McKittrick why they applaud her decision.

When Lady Steel, the wife of the former presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament, decided to get a tattoo to mark her 70th birthday, her family were shocked. They said it was a rash move and her son, who previously had a tattoo removed with laser surgery, was sure she would live to regret it.

Two and a half years after the pink jaguar — an emblem taken from the family's heraldic shield — was applied, Lady Steel bears it proudly.

She's not the only ‘woman of a certain age' to get one. Felicity Kendall had a moon and two feathers inked on to her calf at the ripe old age of 64. Tattoos are no longer the remit of sailors and criminals.

Crude, dark designs with gangland emblems are a thing of the past. Tattoos have now developed into a riot of colour and are considered an art form. Many get tattoos to mark the birth of their children, emblems with a personal meaning or custom artwork.

‘I wouldn’t get a tattoo I couldn’t cover up’

Bonnie Turkington is the owner/operator of the Bird Cage restaurant on Belfast’s Lisburn Road. She lives in Belfast with her husband Alan and sons Troy (21) and Finlay (7). She says:

I would never have got a tattoo when I was young but one day I just felt like it — Alan has tattoos and was considering another one and it spurred me on I think. I didn't have a plan about what tattoo I was going to get which was why I picked one that the tattoo artist had designed — a garter belt with a gun holstered in it.

Troy didn't mind my tattoo, in fact he actually had one done around the same time and neither of us told the other until I spotted his one day.

My mum didn't like it of course. I got up to make a speech on her 60th birthday and finished it with, ‘and by the way, I got a tattoo.’ Then I ran off.

I wouldn't get a tattoo that I couldn't cover up but it's fine on my leg. It can be seen on hot days when I wear shorts. I actually forget it's there until I see people staring at it.

I think fair play to Lady Steele for getting a tattoo at her age, sure why not? It's a very personal emblem to her and it's not offending anyone.

I don't want any more tattoos done. I might get some flowers put around this one, just to soften the image of the gun but I wouldn't want anything else other than that.”

‘It’s socially acceptable now’

Elizabeth Rice is a retired radio producer and lives in Downpatrick. She says:

I did a piece for a radio programme on Janine, a tattoo artist in Enniskillen and it really impressed me.

Tattoos used to be very dark and menacing but in ancient times they were used as status symbols.

After I did the piece on tattoos I was in Enniskillen and went to visit Janine. I decided there and then to have one done. I had a spiral done in rainbow colours at the top of my arm. Since then I've had another spiral in gold in the space between index finger and thumb of my left hand and one in blue on my ankle. All of the spirals were my own designs. I think I've got enough now and I don't intend to get anymore.

It used to be a complete no-no but the way people think about tattoos now is changing and they're more socially acceptable. I was thrilled last year when Felicity Kendall said that she had one done.

Only one person has reacted badly to my tattoos but to be honest I've never really cared what other people think. I find it odd that people can react strongly to something like that whereas if I announced I'd had a facelift I would be congratulated on it. People these days are injecting things into their faces and then making a fuss over a bit of ink!”

‘It was spur of the moment’

Lynda Kher is a restaurant owner and lives in Belfast. She is married to Stephen and has a daughter, Charley (23). She says:

I was doing some business errands around Belfast city centre and I just walked into Belfast City Skinworks and asked for one. They told me to come back in half an hour so I went out and phoned my daughter.

Charley thought I was mad but she came and sat with me while I had it done.

If ever there's a way of putting your child off getting a tattoo it's making them watch you get one.

I didn't have a design planned so I chose an ohm symbol (a Hindu meditation symbol). My husband is of Indian extraction and when we went to visit there I found it such a captivating country and Hinduism such a peaceful religion.

I think Stephen was actually quite chuffed because he knew it was sort of tribute to him and where he came from. His family weren't quite as pleased about it though. Apparently if you get an ohm you should put it somewhere on your body that you can actually see it yourself but I don't think it's the end of the world to have it on my back.

When I got the tattoo I had just seen the film The Bucket List but I was inspired at that point anyway because I had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.

I've been trying to do as much as I can since then but I tried to do it before I was diagnosed anyway.

Before that I climbed Ayers Rock and since then I've swum with the dolphins and walked the Sahara desert.

It's my own personal bucket list.”

‘It’s addictive, if you get one you’ll want more ’

Bernie McAllister is a freelance photographer. She lives in Larne with her husband Stephen and their daughters Clair (24) and Niamh (17). She says:

Last year I was working at the Northern Ireland Tattoo Convention in the Ulster Hall in Belfast. I just thought to myself, why not, as I was there.

Nikita Nevermore from Diamond Hart Tattoo Studio has Shhhh on one of her fingers so between us we came up with Smile for the inside of my index finger — it's the finger I use to press the shutter on my camera.

I barely thought about it but I think I've got to the age now where I don't give a damn.

The second tattoo I have is Promises on my little finger. It's because when my daughter was little and asking for something she would ask for a ‘pinky promise' to confirm it. I got that one three months ago. I got my rainbow tattoo just the other day. I love rainbows but it's also a symbol for the Pride festival so I thought I would go for that design. I love Pride and I've worked with them for three years know so I know how much hard work goes on behind the scenes.

I was originally going to get stars in rainbow colours but when I saw this design I changed my mind. I have to say it hurt much less than tattoos I've had on my fingers.

I have to say ink is addictive. If you get one you'll want more. My family love it too — my oldest daughter got one at Christmas and my 17-year-old has one booked for her 18th birthday. We've bought my husband a voucher and I think he's considering it.

I have my next one all picked out. It's a breast cancer ribbon morphing into a butterfly. It's for my friend and my mother-in-law who have who both survived breast cancer.”

‘The tattoos are my art gallery’

Jonie Wilson (57) is a funeral arranger. Originally from Texas she lives in Carrickfergus with her husband Kevin. She says:

I had always wanted a tattoo but I simply didn't have the nerve to get one in the past. It was my 49th birthday and because I was coming up to the big Five-Oh I decided to get one. I told my husband and he rolled his eyes as he always does at the things I do, then he told me to go for it.

I got the yellow rose of Texas tattooed on my ankle and I loved it so I've had a few more done since then. On my left foot I have my dogs' names and their foot prints (inset) and on my right foot I have Kevin's name. I also have flowers on my right forearm. I want more, especially one with a puppy on it.

They're my art gallery. I keep them covered up at work but otherwise I don't care who sees them.

All of them were done in Carrickfergus. People are surprised when they see them on places like my feet because they can be painful but I've given birth, I can handle it. I wouldn't get tattoos on my face or a full sleeve like some people do. I think if a woman of 70 wants to get a tattoo then good on her — who's it going to hurt?”

Celebs unafraid to say it with some body art

  • TV presenter Fearne Britton got her first tattoo at the ripe old age of 53. The presenter who is famous for losing stones through a gastric band has two butterflies inked on her tummy.
  • Angelina Jolie has numerous tattoos — anything from the Japanese symbol for death to tribal symbols to poems. Most famously she has the geo-coordinates of where her children were born on her upper arm.
  • With 14 tattoos Rihanna is obviously fond of some ink. She started with a musical note and has ‘never a failure, always a lesson' in reverse so she can read it in the mirror.
  • Chery Cole has more than eight tattoos, most famously and elaborate ‘Mrs Cole' on the back of her neck from her marriage to Ashley Cole. Although the marriage has ended Cheryl has said she wants to keep the tattoo as a symbol of her friendship with Ashley.

Leaving marks on history

  • Tattoo’s are thought to be at least 10,000-years-old. The word tattoo is said to have two derivatives. The Polynesian word ‘Ta’, which means ‘striking something’ and the Tahitian word ‘Tatau’, which means ‘to mark something’
  • Otzi the Iceman who lived circa 3,300BC and was found in the Alps had 57 carbon tattoos of simple dots and lines on his immaculately preserved body
  • Tattoos have been used in many parts of the ancient world as cultural symbols among tribal populations
  • Areas associated with tribal tattoos include Polynesia, Mesoamerica, the ancient Middle East, and Germanic and Celtic regions
  • In ancient China and Rome criminals, prisoners and slaves were branded with tattoos

Belfast Telegraph