Belinda Hay, the Painted Lady
“I came to London because I heard the streets were paved with gold,” revealed Belinda Hay with a winsome smile and a twinkle in her eye, as we sat in her hair salon The Painted Lady in Redchurch St. In a sassy black catsuit and displaying a tantalising selection of elaborate tattoos partially visible, she presides here with an unselfconscious poise that is worthy of a movie goddess. Make no mistake, Belinda Hay is “The Painted Lady.”
“I grew up in a small town in New Zealand and one day, when I was eighteen, a mobile tattoo van came and parked up outside school, so I thought it would be a good idea to sneak out and get one.” she confided with sprightly self-evident logic, indicating the discreet little drawing of a fairy upon her right foot, and raising her eyebrows to add, “My mother didn’t speak to me for a month.”
At first, Belinda was frustrated, training as a hair stylist in an old-fashioned salon back home where the only customers were senior ladies. Little did she know that the skills she learnt there, working with curlers and creating perms, would be in great demand in London one day. “I loved my old ladies, but I had to get away,” she confessed to me, clasping her hands and appealing to my understanding.
“I make money from it now!” Belinda continued excitedly, appreciating the irony of the situation, and brightening up as she explained that those who love vintage are hungry for her authentic “old lady styles.” In fact, such has been her success that Belinda has written the book on it, entitled Style Me Vintage and two years ago, with bold enterprise, opened her own salon which is now the epicentre of the vintage hair style universe in London.
“They don’t mean anything,” Belinda insisted, when I queried the iconography of her tattoos,“the meaning is more about the time you have them done.” Yet, acknowledging that the little fairy with wings on her foot marked an assertion of youthful independence, Belinda explained that her current, and developing collection, dates back to six years ago when she found herself in Shoreditch with money in her pocket, thanks to the craze for her vintage-inspired hairdos. Thus, these new tattoos manifest Belinda’s personal transformation into The Painted Lady – a proud identity of her own creation.
To start with, Belinda had “Alice in Wonderland” on her right arm and next, to balance it, she had a peacock on her left arm and then it was pointed out that having tattoos on just her upper arms would make her arms look short, and so she had the designs extended to three-quarter-length on both arms. And that was just the beginning. “I like looking at myself this way,” she explained to me, caressing her multi-coloured arms with pleasure, “it’s strange, looking at old photos when I didn’t have tattoos.”
“It’s really very important to plan your tattoos,” Belinda advised me conscientiously,“I spent a few years unbalanced, with a half sleeve on the left and a three-quarter sleeve on the right,” rolling her eyes to indicate the social unease of such a circumstance. Given the density of design upon her shoulders, I was relieved to learn that this area of the body is relatively painless to get a tattoo. Unlike the inner arm which made Belinda wince even to speak of it. Although she did take this opportunity to tell me about the fox – that will her eventually fill her right thigh and which at present is a work-in-progress with just two and half hours done and another four hours to go – revealing that this also had its painful moments.
Tattooing is a slow, onerous and expensive process (one hundred to hundred and fifty pounds per hour) which means that the luxuriant detail of Belinda’s designs has cost her dearly on many levels. Yet “The more I get, the more I’d like to concentrate on birds and animals – with the peacock and the fox and the butterflies on my calf.” she declared enthusiastically, her eyes misting over and making a convincing show of becoming a goddess of nature, before revealing her plain humanity by whispering, “though I am always scared I’ll fall over and graze my elbows, it would lose the colour.”
She took a moment’s thought, when I asked her why she had tattoos. “I guess deep down it’s for attention, though I wouldn’t like to admit it – I am a realist.” she said, qualifying it at once with a second thought, “Yet I get annoyed when people stare at me, though when I meet others with tattoos I feel I have the right to stare at them.”
Unlike clothes that we can put on and take off, tattoos manifest your history in permanent designs upon the body. In Belinda’s case, I was fascinated by the tension between the ladylike styles she creates and the ambivalent counter-cultural quality of tattoos – a contradiction that she embraces. Commonly to be seen in the demure floral tea dresses of the nineteen fifties with immaculate make-up and coiffure, her tattoos entirely subvert the look – thus Belinda Hay enjoys the feminine glamour of an earlier age, whilst retaining the power and self-possession of a modern independent woman too.
Belinda Hay dressed as a fairy, aged four in New Zealand.
“I like looking at myself this way - it’s strange, looking at old photos when I didn’t have tattoos.”
Belinda relaxes with her pet fox at her salon on Redchurch St.
You might also like to read about