Tracy Buck's Pride Tattoo has called Roman Road its home for almost 25 years. ©Social Streets C.I.C

Pride of place on The Roman: Pride Tattoos

An inquisitive lime green chameleon, inked semi-colons, and an empathetic artist combine to make Pride Tattoos one of the longer-standing and trusted shops to call Roman Road home.

Inflicting deliberate pain on yourself is not a recommended form of therapy. Therapy should heal old wounds, not create new ones.

So, it seems something of a head-scratching incongruity that, when experiencing deep emotional ache, heading to a tattoo parlour can be the cure.

For Tracy Buck, a straight-talking North Londoner and owner of Roman Road establishment Pride Tattoos, seeing people at such specific emotional points in their life is part of her every day: ‘I always joke and say there must be some sort of anagram of ‘therapist’ written on my window because I’ve been told all sorts of stuff.’

Buck set up shop almost a quarter of a century ago, in 1998, seeking out Roman Road for its renowned destination as the preeminent market in London. 

Having hopped around Roman Road (Buck first occupied a space above Patty Heaven, and then across the road where Ace Cars is based), Pride Tattoos now sits between Denningtons Florist and gift shop Snap. This is not the image of a typical tattoo parlour where high-octane heavy metal music is played on repeat, or an overload of music memorabilia clings to the walls. 

Alan, the bearded dragon, at Pride Tattoo parlour on Roman Road, Bow, East London.
Alan the bearded dragon in his enclosure, opposite Kenny, the chameleon. ©Social Streets C.I.C.

Here, Capital FM pumps out its bouncy tunes in the background, while artwork, by Buck, on sweatshirts and denim jackets, and a selection of small prints hang from brick-exposed walls. The shop also has two live-in residents: Kenny, the lime green and pillar-box red striped chameleon, whose eyes swivel incessantly to suss me out, and Alan, the laid-back Australian bearded dragon who munches leisurely on a cucumber and iceberg lettuce medley, unfazed by my presence. 

Buck has never strayed from here because, she says matter of factly, ‘It doesn’t matter if you’re from north, south, east or west London, everyone knows The Roman Road.’

And everyone on Roman Road seems to know, and trust, Buck for she sees the whole gamut of human emotions lying before her in her tattooist’s black leather recliner chair.

Reception area at Pride Tattoo on Roman Road, East London.
A warm welcome: inside Pride Tattoos ©Social Streets C.I.C.

People get tattoos when they’re elated, such as after the birth of a baby, or when they are in the depths of grief, after losing a loved one. There are others who want to be inked to assuage their guilt over an affair or to regain their confidence after a traumatic life event, such as going through cancer treatment.

And, as her clients make eye contact with the black and gold floral wallpaper in her studio, Buck’s eyes are firmly on her clients’ skin, carefully etching their desired indelible markers.

‘Tattooing isn’t all about fashion or the latest craze,’ she reflects while gently shaking her head so her pink hair bobs in its messy ponytail. ‘My aim is to make people feel good and, if you feel good about yourself, it gives you a little bit of encouragement and self-belief that you can do anything. If you are confident, it goes a long, long way.’

She recalls with great fondness clients for whom regaining confidence was their goal.

A petite but poised 92-year-old woman entered her shop requesting for her fading eyebrows to be tattooed. Although this occurred years ago, Buck recalls her being ‘the most glamourous thing I have ever seen, dripping in gold, her hair was done, she looked fabulous.’

There was also the time when a 45-year-old woman requested large tattoos to be inked on her arms and legs to cover up deep scars from her teenage years. Self-conscious, the woman never went on a beach holiday, never wore a bikini, the sun’s glow rarely hit her skin. Buck, with a can-do attitude of an ever-optimistic problem solver, says: ‘We changed that for her by just sitting here and asking, “what can we do?”.’  

The next time Buck saw the woman she was beaming from ear to ear, and bronzed from head to toe, having just returned from her recent the Mediterranean, and first beach, holiday. According to Buck, the woman, proudly displaying her newfound confidence, said: ‘I feel like I can just start my life all over again.’

Such tattooing comes under the umbrella of medical tattooing which is where Buck sees a great deal of worth. So much so, that she is about to take a course to restore people’s hairlines after suffering hair loss due to age, alopecia, or cancer treatment.

But it’s the decorative and ornamental tattooing that constitutes a huge part of her work and really is her bread and butter. ‘The most popular are kids’ names and their date of birth.’ she states. This can turn into a whole family affair with new mum, dad, and grandparents coming in to get it done. This Buck will do two to three times a week.

Religious tattoos can make her laugh. She says with a mischievous chuckle, ‘Half of them don’t go to church.’ She adds with incredulity: ‘So, you’ve just had Jesus tattooed on you with the words “only God can judge me”, but never stepped foot in a church before?’

Tracy Buck, owner of Pride Tattoos on Roman Road, Bow, East London.
A lip tattoo signifies Buck’s former-wife ©Social Streets C.I.C.

Despite Buck’s no-nonsense exterior, it is clear she is empathetic and has a deep understanding of human emotions which she taps into with sensitivity and care. This is reflected further in her offer to tattoo, for free, a simple semi-colon, the symbol of solidarity against mental health issues. 

This endeavour is personal: Buck’s mother suffers from anxiety and depression, and Buck is her main carer. Her hope is it’ll open up a conversation between two strangers. ‘Perhaps if someone saw she had that semicolon, they could go, ‘are you alright?’. The fact that it’s in her head, you can’t see it. How do people know to help? And that made me think: “people need to have this and people need to reach out”.’ Buck’s own small but visible semi-colon is inked on the inside of her left wrist.

Through her art, she can make people happy, and Buck concludes: ‘No doubt, this is the best job in the world. When I know that my work, or even my shop, has changed their lives.’

In some ways, hers is a perfect hybrid of her immediate neighbours of florist and gift shop. Flicking through Buck’s tattoo display book in reception, a tattoo can be an ornament on your body, and a gift of self-love.

And this is why Buck has no plans to put down her ink pen anytime soon: ‘I want to keep Pride going on for years and years, even if I am not here,’ she says. ‘This just ain’t a tattoo shop. As far as I am concerned, this is a refuge, a social club, and a place to make people feel better.’

If you enjoyed this read, then take a look at our article on George Burchett, the famed early 20th-century tattooist.

Tracy chatting to locals at Pride Tattoo, Roman Road, East London.
A social club: Buck chatting to locals at Pride Tattoos. ©Social Streets C.I.C.

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