Andy Boocock has a tattoo of a tiny skull and crossbones on his thumb. It’s one of his favourites. “I use it a lot at work,” he says. “It’s a real pirate tattoo so I wave it at children, which goes down quite well.”
Andy, who was born and brought up in Ilkley and now lives in Leeds, is a charge nurse in the Emergency Department at Airedale Hospital in Keighley. He has no idea how many tattoos he has. The last one was a Bowie tribute, enshrining “We Can Be Heroes” across the back of his head. He thinks he’s spent a total of around £5,000 over the years, and they cover most of the top half of his body.
Inevitably, the tattoos have transformed this gentle, softly spoken man into something of an attraction – a celebrity, even. A lover of fashion, his look is striking, edgy, intriguing. He has more than 18,000 followers of his Instagram account @very_inky_dude and is now a leading style influencer, invited to the coolest events and working as a part-time model for fashion shoots and catwalks. Modelling, it seems, is no longer just a young person’s game.
“I messed about with it a little bit in my youth,” he says. “I’m age-neutral, I don’t do age anymore. At that point you had to be 6 ft, under 21 and look like an Adonis, but now there’s a great big world of alternative modelling and age seems to be irrelevant, as does size, body image etc.”
He returned to modelling five years ago and became a brand ambassador for Bolongaro Trevor in Leeds, launched by the original All Saints designers. “I was a big fan of the brand. They asked me if I would be interested in doing a catwalk for them, which I did. It’s basically down to my tattoos, to be honest.”
Those tattoos really started about 13 years ago, when Andy took a break from nursing to become a flight attendant. “I’ve worked for the NHS for 30 years, but right in the middle – 2006-8 - I’d had enough and went to work for Virgin Atlantic for a couple of years, and travelled the world and started picking up small inkings. I’d had a couple before. About five years ago, I thought, I really like tattoos, and they just spread, incredibly.”
Extreme, perhaps, but, Andy’s body art reflects the fact that, in recent years, tattoos have become mainstream. A survey in 2015 found that a fifth of all British adults were inked, with 30 per cent of 25-39 year-olds having at least one tattoo. David Beckham and Ed Sheeran have pioneered the visible, heavily tattooed look for men.
Andy’s tattoos have been created at Snake & Tiger in Leeds, by Bradford-based tattoo artist Rob Doubtfire and Squid Shock of Sowerby Bridge, among others. He says: “A lot of them are based on impulse but they are all relevant to occasions or situations in my life, and things that made a big difference to me.”
So he has tattoos that play with the names of his family, including his wife, Michelle, daughters Beth, 23, and Madison, 14, and granddaughter Bonnie, nearly two. “Both my daughters sometimes raise their eyebrows. I’m not like your average dad who brings them out of school, I suppose,” he says.
Many of his tattoos are word-based – mottos, inspirational sayings, warnings. He has “Love Kills” and “Dancing with demons fighting with angels” – “It’s all too easy to think your angels are looking after you and your demons are your enemies, but it can quite often be the other way round,” he says. There’s also “Architect of My Own Destruction” –“Which I am,” he says. “I think everybody is.”
As for the pain factor, yes, sometimes being tattooed hurts. Andy says: “I was supposed to have matching dragons on my feet. On my right foot I have a dragon, on my left foot I have not, because it hurt so much, I never went back for the second. Finger aren’t good, elbows… the ones on your head are not too bad. If there’s skin and bone, it hurts.”
He has “Louder” tattooed across one side of his head and next to each ear, there is a mute sign, like you find on your mobile phone. Andy is 70 per cent deaf (he listened to bands and DJ-ed fanatically during the 1980s and ‘90s, he says) and has tiny hearing aids in each ear, provided by The Hearing Suite at Harrogate, with whom he now works on publicity.
To those who ask why he covers his body and face in ink, he says: “I’ve always liked sticking my fingers up at society and conformism. It’s like painting confidence on yourself because you’ve got to be able to carry them off.”
He has never encountered negativity as an emergency nurse. “No, to be honest, not at all,” he says. “Initially, I had ones that you couldn’t see, and people caught a quick glimpse, and there’s like a sharp intake of breath, but I think now, everybody is so into the diversity thing. We don’t judge anybody so I don’t think anybody judges us.
“I generally don’t do politics, colour, religion, anything. If you’re nice to me. I’m nice to you. I judge everybody the same and I expect people to judge me, I suppose, like that.”
Andy believes that these days his tattoos often come as a pleasant surprise. “I’ve been in nursing since 1988 and to do what I do, you’ve got to be a caring person. If you’re nice and pleasant to people, it’s a good mix. “I like wearing a nice sharp suit and a white shirt, cufflinks, white collar, white cuffs and then ink and skull rings – it’s a contrast.”
As a model, Andy collaborates with brands he supports. He has just taken part in a shoot for Always BU, an ethical clothing brand dedicated to raising awareness of domestic abuse. He also models for Zlata Alekhno in Leeds and partners models Denise Ohnona (a Kate Moss look-alike) and Rachel Peru. He took part in the Humans of Leeds photography project – and a documentary is being made about him. As for more tattoos, well, it seems they can be moreish, if not addictive.
“There are some amazing tattoo artists out there doing some some really cool stuff,” he says. “Every time you get a tattoo, at first you think ‘oh, I love this, this is great’, but I can guarantee you that within a year, you’ll think ‘wow, look at that!’. It’s like a new car – within a year you’ll have seen another one. I’m afraid you can’t trade them in, once you’ve got them.”
Not that he would. “The amount of positive energy they attract, or maybe I attract, is phenomenal,” he says. “Wherever I go, people stop me, look at me, talk to me.
“I don’t regret any of them at all, but what I do regret is that I’m running out of space.”
Pictures: Bruce Rollinson
All clothes and accessories are Andy Boocock’s own. Instagram: @very_inky_dude
Location: Dock 29 at Leeds Dock, www.dock29.co.uk