Based in Plymouth city centre, David owns Angeles Piercing inside Talisman Tattoo. David is one of very few people who left the piercing industry and returned full-throttle, opening up his own studio and becoming a board member of the UKAPP. David is both a UKAPP and APP member and is an incredibly talented piercer . An all round lovely person! Gemma got the chance to catch up with David post-conference to discuss his journey in the industry, UKAPP plans for the future and his sponsorship of Plymouth City Patriots Cheer Squad!
Gemma: What was your first experience body piercing?
David: I don’t remember the first piercing I saw. I remember seeing really heavily tattooed people when I was young. There was this guy that used to walk around Dawlish, I remember seeing him when I was really young and being both terrified and fascinated. I was just like, “Mom, look, it’s a bad man and I love him!”
I think the first piercing I ever wanted was my eyebrow because it was the early two thousands and even though it was a super “chavvy” piercing at the time and everyone seemed to hate it , that made me want it. So I went and absolutely begged the woman in the local jewellers (which is a really grandiose term for what this was), it was like a little shack in Newton Abbott market where they sold and repaired watches, and for some reason they had a piercing gun. Thankfully, she did refuse to pierce my eyebrow with that and I got two lobe piercings instead. The school made me take the second one out the next day, and then I started stretching the first one. So that was like my first piercing,
I got my septum piercing pretty early on. I really wanted my lip pierced, that was like my big teenage dream because of MySpace, right? The second I finished secondary school, I ran straight to piercing shop and got my lip pierced. It was the best day.
G: While we’re in the early 2000’s, was there much of an alternative/punk scene where you grew up?
D: Yeah, there was actually. We had a really forward thinking studio called Exeter Body Piercing, which if anyone’s ever heard me talk before, they’ll know how much I love and miss that place. And because of the time, it was still non-sterile gloves and externally threaded jewellery. They were at least using titanium when everyone else was still using cheap, badly polished steel and mystery metal. They sold a lot of large gauge stuff and had all that late nineties, early two thousands crazy piercing photos on the wall. Like intersecting tunnels and stapling and all those practices that we know now very much don’t work, but was super cool to see at the time.
There was actually a reasonably vibrant piercing scene in Exeter, I don’t know about Plymouth because I’d never really spent that much time here as a kid. Exeter, at the time, was a surprisingly punk rock city as well. All the youth culture was divided into one of three groups. And one of those three groups was definitely gonna be the punk kids and the metal kids and they all had piercings, right? It had a reasonable body modification scene back then, for anyone that’s familiar with the UK Body Piercing/Modification scene back when it wasn’t illegal in the UK, Exeter had a fairly well known modification practitioner start their career down here.
G: The mods I saw growing up were all on BME
D: I can never remember how I encountered BME. I assume it was just like in the back of a magazine or something like that. But I spent every waking moment on BME because, despite the fact there was this be really vibrant scene, I was of course absolutely convinced that I was the one that was gonna do it most extreme, you know, and all this crazy stuff I saw on BME, I was definitely gonna be doing. I’m quite glad I didn’t do that.
G: What year did you get started in piercing?
D: I didn’t start until I was 26. I really wanted to be a piercer but I didn’t really know how to get into it because Exeter Body Piercing had shut down.
Cheaper chain shops started springing up and they couldn’t compete. It wasn’t necessarily just price, it was location as well. Basically, Exeter has a really steep hill and people only walk down it if they absolutely have to because they know they’re gonna have to walk back up. The chain shops just set up further up the hill and no one wanted to walk down to EBP anymore.
So, I was managing a bar and looking for a new job when someone I knew who managed a local studio offered me the opportunity to work there. They’d had two piercers but one just left and the other was going on maternity leave. To be honest, I think they would’ve taken me on at that stage if I was literally on fire. So, they took me on and taught me to pierce, and I mean, it was a low standard shop. I was doing 60, 70 piercings a day by myself, a few minutes for each client, no idea what aseptic or reasonable quality jewellery was. It was titanium because licensing said it had to be. I think I worked there about nine months because I was, not trying to be all ‘holier than thou’ but I was already very well aware that standards were low.
I don’t care what anyone says, piercing is tiring and it’s a big responsibility and it takes a lot out of you to continually hurt someone all day, every day. 60-70 piercings a day. I just couldn’t hack it. I couldn’t do the type of piercing they needed me to do. So I quit and decided to go to university instead.
G: Tell us about The Piercing Talk Show podcast you started
D: I just needed a project over lockdown and I’ve always really loved Ryan’s podcast, Piercing Wizard. Ryan’s podcast has had lots of British piercers on there, but I was also well aware that there were certain names that were just never gonna make it on that I wanted to talk to. When I started the podcast, I think the only person I had on who had been on Ryan’s podcast before was Charlie LeBeau, because, who doesn’t wanna talk to Charlie, right? I could have done at least another hour of that interview and never got bored. But other than that, I intentionally tried to pick people who haven’t had the opportunity to go on a podcast before.
G: What was your experience guesting at Rogue like?
D: At my first guest spot and on my first day at Rogue as well, I tried to pierce like the shop I was working at rather than just understanding that, actually I’m here so I can pierce how I pierce. Aiden is so very committed to the idea that like you can be any style of piercer and Rogue will have the tools for you. Whereas that’s so different for me at my studio, I just have to make do because I don’t work somewhere that has the possibility of reprocessing. If I can’t make it work with my fingers or a blank, I just can’t make it work, you know? So I think that was the big difference. It was quite nice every now and again to be like, “Ah, that’s really difficult. Wait! I can use haemostats!”. And the Rogue jewellery selection as well makes mine look really small. I’ve never seen that much BVLA before in one place, so yeah, that was exciting.
G: You’re very successful in Plymouth and your studio is now the sponsor for Plymouth City Patriots Basketball Club Cheer Squad!
D: I knew nothing about sports before I got into basketball. We are very much not a sports oriented family. I tried to be into football for a while, just trying to make some friends. Didn’t really work I’m not gonna lie. I’m not very good at faking enthusiasm for football. I’ve done a couple of combat sports, which I quite enjoy, but I can’t do that anymore because if I hurt my hand, I just can’t work. So we’ve never really been a sports oriented family.
But one day my son came home from school and said he wanted to go see some basketball. And we said, alright that sounds horrible but we’ll take you. And we really enjoyed it! Me and me and my wife got right into it. And their cheer squad have really struggled to find sponsorship, which I find baffling because none of the players or the team have had that problem. From a brand psychology point of view, players have good days, but they also have really bad days. But the cheer squad? Only good feelings! So that was like a no brainer to me. We are sponsoring Plymouth City Patriots Cheer Squad this year, which is cool.
G: Tell us about the journey to starting Angeles Piercing
D: I work out of Talisman Tattoo in Plymouth, I rent a room downstairs and my studio is pretty self-contained.
When I left the first studio I worked at, I really did truly intend not to go back to piercing. I thought that place was all there was, and I didn’t wanna find out anything else about the industry. But then a friend of mine who ran a studio, asked if I wanted to work there. I didn’t know if I really wanted to do piercing again but I just agreed to do it for a few months until they found a new piercer. In that time, I had a client come in wanting a set of Dahlia piercings. I’d never done them before and from everything I knew about piercing – it didn’t seem very safe to just ‘give it a go’.
So I reached out to Nick Pinch and asked if he’d show me how to do these piercing if I brought the client along and he agreed. The guy didn’t have the right anatomy for them, but instead, he ended up buying an Industrial Strength prium and a big amethyst cabochon. And I was blown away. I’d never seen jewellery like that before. Pinchy showed me his Statim and stuff like that and I was like, “Oh my god, these things are all incredible.” So a combination of speaking with Rae from Ethereal Aesthetics, Ian from Holdfast Body and Pinchy convinced me to go to the UKAPP conference that year. And I came back from with all these incredible ideas and properly got fired from the studio I was at.
So I went home and I was really, really broken and full credit to my wife because I don’t know that I’d still be piercing now if it wasn’t for her. She was like “look, if you want to carry on piercing then you’ve got basically everything you need except the Statim. So let’s find the money for the Statim and you can have some feelings about this horrible thing later, but right now let’s just find you another job”. We went into Plymouth city centre and I got offers from a couple of studios that I wasn’t really sure about.
And then I walked into Talisman. I knew I needed to work there. The aesthetic was just so pretty and it was just such a peaceful space. The studio owners asked me to come in for a chat and I’d already had such a good feeling about it that I’d actually turned down the other two offers. I was so prepared to work at Talisman . I thought I was being interviewed so I wore a fucking suit to meet them. Took a whole bag of like jewellery with me that I’d picked up from conference that I wanted to show them. And they were just lovely. I told them that I wanted to be a UKAPP member and an APP member and they asked what I needed to do that. Looking at the space, it just needed a sink and the ability to make the desk non-porous. The studio owners were really supportive in helping me achieve that.
I started in Talisman in November, 2019. And without blowing my own trumpet, I have the highest Environmental Health score. I was elected to the UKAPP board within about nine months of being part of the organisation. I think obviously Covid had a lot to with that because, I often get quite a lot of congratulations for all the stuff I tried to do during covid. And actually I was purely doing it because I knew that if I didn’t, I was gonna get so depressed I might never leave the sofa again.
When the pandemic started, Aiden had said everyone needs to do something. And I was like, right, I’m gonna do something. I’m gonna do something and I’m gonna do it right now. Because otherwise I’m gonna cry and I’m gonna never stop crying. So we did few online things for piercers over Covid. And then when the next board election came up, I got nominated and I thought, I’ll accept the nomination because no one’s gonna vote for me anyway. And then I got like elected and I was like, okay now I’ve gotta be on the board
It’s been quite cool. I think we’ve done some cool stuff.
G: Why did you want to join the UKAPP?
D: I discovered the UKAPP around about the same time I met Nick. Me and Rae were very much baby pierces at that point and were constantly talking about where we wanted our careers to go. We both wanted to be UKAPP and APP members. To be honest, it was kind of mostly self-interested. It seemed like there was this group of piercers who had really demonstrated that they were hitting these standards. I just wanted to be a part of that, I wanted to show that I was as good as it was possible to be at what I did.
Especially after Lola and Sean had all the success that they did over the FGM issue, I think I definitely started seeing that this is an organisation which doesn’t just prompt piercers to be better, but also wanted what was happening to us to be better as well. And actually. maybe we could make some change. I put together my UKAPP application in July 2019 and after a few minor changes it was accepted in December, 2019. I was out Christmas shopping when I got the email, I was in a comic book shop buying Spiderman comics for my son and I did a little happy dance. It was really good.
The UKAPP is group of piercers who are meeting a certain hygiene standard and I know it’s a cliche but I am proud to be a part of the organisation and I’m proud that I’ve managed to consistently hit that standard.
G: Congrats on your position on the board! What are the UKAPP currently working on?
D: We’re going to be updating minimum standards. They had, in my mind, become just a little bit convoluted and reading the current standards was a bit difficult. So we want to update them, make them make a little bit more sense and easier to understand. We’ve added and clarified a few as well.
In 2023, we are adding sterile gloves as a strong suggestion. We are adding aseptic technique as a strong suggestion. In 2024, that will become an actual minimum standard and if you don’t want to use sterile gloves, you just have to let us know how you’re going to achieve an aseptic technique without the use of sterile gloves.
We will be updating jewellery standards to apply to non-healed piercings, which they already did but I think there was some confusion around that. You have to use something that meets the minimum jewellery standards for your initial piercing, but do you have to use it for downsized? Do you have to use it for troubleshooting? We are just clarifying that yes, unless it is a properly healed piercing, you need to be using jewellery that meets the minimum standard. And although this is not becoming a minimum standard, it is purely becoming a suggestion same as the use of a HEPA filter, in the sense that we think it’s a good and sensible idea, but we also recognise that it’s not possible for every studio. We’re going to suggest that jewellery transfer tools or anything that actually transverses a wound as you’re performing a piercing, should be single use and should not be reprocessed.
We’re also launching a journal! There was a lot of feedback that people weren’t being kept, up to date. The journal is our response to that, and if anyone has ever read The Point which is put out by the APP, it’s gonna be something similar to that.
We’re also going to take a run at creating a healed piercing standard because it’s obviously been something that nearly every UKAPP and APP board have tried and just never been successful. So we kind of feel like, it’s our turn. I feel like we all know what we mean when we talk about jewellery that’s suitable for healed piercing. We are not talking about sticking an externally threaded piece of steel or piece of non verified metal into someone’s healed piercing. That’s not what we mean. We are just trying to find a way that we can say it should meet these standards unless it’s for weights or plugs or something like that. But we just need to find a way to word that that actually works for the industry as a whole. I’m quietly confident in that one.
We’re also just continuing to work with Environmental Health Officers. I know it looks slow to an outside observer, and I absolutely understand why it looks slow. The thing is, when you talk about making change to the UK piercing industry, there is no central legislation which governs piercing at all. It’s all local and the reason that’s a problem is it means that you can’t make changes all at once. They have to make changes council by council and in fact, to be able to make centralised changes, you wouldn’t just have to have representatives of the body piercing industry, you would have to start arguing that many powers that have been devolved from Westminster to local government are then taken back to Westminster.
So it’s not just piercing, but also tattoo, hair, food hygiene, things like this. When you’re making change at a local council level, first off, you have to convincingly make the argument that the change you’re asking for is essential to public health. After you convince them of that, they then have to check whether it’s going to place “an undue burden on local business”. You then have to win that argument with one council, which is an enormous undertaking in itself. There are 333 councils in the UK and if one of them turns you back, then that suddenly sets a precedent that other local councils can knock it back as well.
I appreciate why it looks slow to people on the outside and it’s because it is. It is heartbreakingly, painfully slow to make the changes that we want to make for the UK piercing industry.
We did have a few things last year that have given us some hope, and I’m hoping that we can expand on this year. We might be able to approach things in a slightly different way without having to make new legislative change, but work within what already exists without introducing bylaws. So if that comes off, I’ll be thrilled.
G: What’s in the future for Angeles Piercing?
D: For the time being, I’m very happy coasting. I’ve got all the UKAPP board stuff and I’ve just started working with Infinite Body Jewellery to bring their jewellery to the UK. I’m not gonna lie, my wife Steph has done an enormous amount of the Infinite stuff because it’s her company to. But even so, I am still snowed under and the idea of expanding or doing anything big with the studio at the minute is a little way off.
I’ve reached a point in my jewellery collection where actually it’s not really fitting in the cabinet anymore. It’s looking a bit crowded. But I don’t have the space to add a second cabinet right now. Sometime in the future I think I would like to start my own studio. I would probably continue to work in Talisman and I would start a second studio maybe elsewhere. There’s no firm plans really, at the minute we’ve got a lot else on.
I do offer free consultancy services at this stage in my career, to help piercers get out of studios that they’re not happy in and set up on their own. And it’s something that I’d like to do as a job eventually, but I wouldn’t know how that would work in a way that I could like effectively make money from the people I want to make money from, but not take money from people who I think need the help. Rhianna’s UKAPP role as membership liaison is very much like, I would struggle to consider it anything other than free consultancy. Because Rhianna is really, genuinely terrific at their role in helping people become members. People don’t necessarily know that they can just reach out to Rhianna in an email and we’ll discuss anything. Does this meet standard? Does that not meet standard? And personally, I really like creative ways to meet UKAPP standards. I’m not saying that we’re gonna like bend rules, but I do like seeing people find creative ways to deal with problems that might arise.
For example, Rae at Ethereal Aesthetics, the way that they have set up their studio to ensure that it’s meeting those minimum standards or the minimum standards that they’ve set for them for themselves based on UK standards, it’s incredible. Like, it’s really incredible. When I first saw that building, I though there is no way that is ever gonna be where it is now. But they’ve done it!
It shows you don’t have to be like those huge studios that have the opportunity to just tear walls up and down at whim to be able to be members. My own studio is much the same, I’ve got maybe 20 square meters of floor space. It’s just tiny. But when I set up Angeles Piercing, one of my goals of becoming a UKAPP member was that I wanted to show that you didn’t need to be a really high volume studio to meet those standards. I think I’ve demonstrated that well.
G: Kat asks – if you could change one thing about your studio design, what would it be?
D: A better jewellery display space because I’ve literally got one jewellery cabinet in quite possibly the most inconvenient location ever. It’s the only place I could put it that met standard and I hate it because it’s in quite a closed away location. So yeah, a better jewellery display space would be what I would change about my studio.
G: Jay wants to know – What is your Gregg’s order?
D: Oh, it’s two vegan sausage rolls and a bottle of Coke. Nice and simple. Have you been to Original Pasty House? It might just be a Devon thing. Their vegan sausage rolls are absolutely boss, like definitely the best ones on the market.