A lip tattoo signifies Tracy Buck’s former-wife ©Social Streets C.I.C.
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Overheard on the Roman: Tales of love tattoos to make you think twice this Valentine’s Day

How getting a tattoo of your partner’s name can turn from an impulsive declaration of everlasting love to an expensive relationship-ending mistake.

Despite a burgeoning anti-Valentine’s movement, every February East London’s restaurants dim their lights, the supermarket shelves are packed with expensive chocolates and Columbia Road Flower Market flourishes with red roses. 

But Valentine’s Day is not just a manipulation of our bank accounts. Many people embrace the opportunity to spend time and money with their loved ones, with couples enjoying candlelit dinners and friends taking to the dancefloor in Hackney Wick

But have you ever considered making a more permanent show of affection? What says ‘forever’ more than a tattoo that lasts a lifetime? 

Rather than bombarding readers with more articles about where to get that discounted bottle of bubbly this Valentine’s Day, we took to the Roman to hear the tales of local love tattoos and to find out if these irreversible displays of everlasting love are actually more likely to end in heartbreak. 

As a tattoo artist you are both their counsellor and their new friend. People tell me their inner secrets that they wouldn’t tell anyone else.

Tracy Buck

No matter how besotted you might be, Roman Road’s longest-standing tattoo artist Tracy Buck of Pride Tattoos says that she always warns couples against getting their partner’s name inscribed permanently on their body.

‘Practically every name I’ve tattooed on someone I’ve had to cover up again. It’s just tempting fate,’ says Buck: ‘I try to convince people to get something symbolic of their partner, and if you can’t think of something that represents your relationship then you probably shouldn’t be together in the first place!’ 

Buck has a tattoo of a pair of lips on her neck that she calls ‘the kiss of death,’ symbolising her ex-wife. ‘That’s why she’s my ex!’ Buck laughs: ‘As I said, it’s bad karma but at least it’s not the name.’

People say being a cabbie provides you with endless dinner-party anecdotes, but being a tattoo artist has got to be one of the best professions for entertaining workplace stories. As Buck says: ‘People get tattoos for very personal reasons, be it joy, achievement or loss. 

‘As a tattoo artist you are both their counsellor and their new friend. People tell me their inner secrets that they wouldn’t tell anyone else.’ 

But despite 22 years of tattoo fixing and coverups, according to Buck, many couples don’t listen to her advice. Afterall, where’s the romance in thinking with your head rather than your heart? 

Lazarus Mavridis, owner of Fleshformers, has welcomed countless couples through his doors since opening on the Roman in July 2019. Mavridis says that no news is good news when it comes to love tattoos. If you don’t hear from the couple after tattooing them, it usually means they’ve stayed together. 

One couple who came into his studio last Valentine’s Day didn’t have such luck. Only 24 hours after getting tattoos of each other’s names, Mavridis was on the phone to one half of the partnership who was already booking an appointment to get it covered up. What was meant as an impulsive display of affection had escalated into an argument ending the three-month relationship. 

Marshal Asiamah, owner of Roman Road’s newest studio, Stay Woke tattoos, has had to fix a fair few love tattoos in his time: ‘A couple game in to get matching tattoos of each others’ names and I warned them it was bad luck,’ he says: ‘The guy came back a few weeks later and had it covered with a massive rose all over his chest. It had to be filled in and it was practically pitch black.’

Buck says she’s seen multiple instances of girlfriends coming in asking for a tattoo of their boyfriend’s name, who have to phone their other half to double-check the spelling before they begin. ‘If that’s not a red flag then what is!’ she laughs. 

Before and after of a tatoo of a woman's face turned into a tattoo of a skull

But other cases she’s seen have been no laughing matter. Buck says that one man came into Pride to get the portrait of his fiancée tattooed on his chest as a mark of his undying love and commitment to her. But while they were saving up for their big, expensive wedding, she ran off with his best friend and pocketed all the money. 

As you can see his chosen cover-up was a bitter one. 

But it’s not all vengeance and heartbreak at our local studios. Mavridis recalls making an appointment to cover up a man’s tattoo of his ex-girlfriend’s name, ‘but then I got an email from him a few weeks later saying that he’d found a new girlfriend with the same name, so rather than remove the tattoo, he wanted to have it decorated with love hearts!’ Mavridis exclaims. 

On another occasion, Mavridis remembers two individuals coming into Fleshformers who both wanted tattoos from the animated film The Nightmare Before Christmas. After congratulating each other on their good taste in films and going out for a celebratory post-ink drink, the pair found they had so much in common and the chance encounter was the start of a successful relationship. What could be a clearer sign of fate? 

So if you’re thinking of getting a tattoo this Valentine’s Day, you might want to listen to our local tattoo artists before adorning yourself with your lover’s initials and opt for something a little more mysterious. 

If you enjoyed this piece, read our article about George Burchett, the tattoo artist from Bow who drew on Kings.

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