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UK is the most tattooed nation in the world

David Swift

When I saw the research suggesting the UK is the most tattooed nation in the world. I read it with a raised eyebrow, but when I started counting the number of people I knew who had gone under the needle I continued reading with interest.

According to the research Birmingham leads the way with 48% of "brummies” having an average of six tattoos. With Norwich and Glasgow not far behind. Now that we have the stats the question is why are Brits so in love with having tattoos? Well, for one it is no longer seen as an extreme thing to do and has become more socially accepted.

However, the humble tattoo will always divide people. Some thinking it is a working-class thing to do that can harm your chances of landing the perfect job, partner and so forth. And there are some people, and maybe an increasing number, that believe it’s a form of art and self-expression.

Regardless of your opinion on tattoos the history is fascinating and can be traced back to the time of Julius Caesar and it was first written about by Sir Jason Banks, who sailed with James Cook to find new lands in 1769, who recorded the markings of the Samoan natives in his journal.

The invention of the modern day tattooing technique didn’t come about until in 1891 when it was invented by Samuel O’Riley – an Irish-American tattooist in New York.  The procedure was painful but took off. First amongst the elite and then the masses. 

Among the notable British people to have a tattoo is Winston Churchill, who was the Prime Minister twice and came from an aristocratic family. His tattoo was of an anchor on his left upper arm and his wife also had one of a snake on her wrist.

Samantha Cameron the wife of the current Prime Minister also has a tattoo of a dolphin on her ankle. It would appear that tattooing has now become mainstream but it begs the question, what do all these motifs and symbols mean?

In the 1800’s tattoos were incredibly popular amongst British sailors, with over 90% having one. The tattoo told a story of their voyages and where they served.  For example a turtle meant you had crossed the equator and an anchor meant you had crossed the Atlantic and a dragon meant you had served in a China station.

Today it is more of a fashion statement with a fifth of British adults having tattoos

Today it is more of a fashion statement with a fifth of British adults having tattoos.  And there is no denying the inspiration comes from celebrities, such as David Bechham. However, with over 20 million designs adorning the bodies of Brits where does the inspiration for the designs come from.

There are regional influences in the designs people choose and a big difference from city to city. For example people from Liverpool favour tattoos that pay tribute to a loved one that have died and people from Aberdeen prefer designs that are more tribal and influenced by the tattoos of Polynesian and Maori warriors.

The attitude towards tattooing in the UK has changed significantly over the last 50 years. 7% of people born in the 50s are likely to have a tattoo but 42% of people born in the 80s and 90s have one. In fact people coming from Birmingham, Norwich and Glasgow are likely to have six more “tats”.

infographic courtesy of Carole Nash Insurance


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