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‘I always knew I wanted to poke holes in people for a living!’

Don’t worry Chester, these words come from Shannon Nicola, the new, resident piercer at Minerva Tattoo Lodge. And Shannon’s come a hell of a long way from self-piercing in her bedroom at the age of twelve, using her mum’s sewing pins – ‘I don’t condone that at all now! But I’ve been fascinated by body piercings since day one. I’ve always been an alternative little weirdo.’

We’re sitting on one of the sofas in The 2nd Floor, the same level as Shannon’s piercing studio. Below us, Minerva’s tattoo artists ink their designs on skin and around us customers ohh and ahh over brightly-coloured wonder emporium of the shop.

Shannon estimates she has 25-30 body piercings. ‘It fluctuates – sometimes I have a quiet five minutes and pop one in!’

After finishing with Flying Circus Tattoo (Stafford), her open day at Minerva on Saturday 9th March was a huge success, suggesting she might be too busy to do any new work on herself for the foreseeable. ‘It was so good! I was intending on just chatting and mingling, but I had such a positive response and booked lots of people in for piercings.’

Growing up on the Isle of Wight, which Shannon remembers as a ‘small and quiet place,’ she was delighted to be taken on as an apprentice at eighteen, by Old Time Tattoo ((Miki Foulds) when it opened on the island. She became a Junior Piercer in just two months, speedy progression in the industry, and no doubt in part due to her dedicated self-practice.

After six months working with Old Time, and then a year out, Shannon was then taken on by Raven Skin, ‘They were the best on the island. I quickly sent myself on a piercing course to refresh my skills. I then discovered the UKAPP and go to their conferences each year to learn and better myself. They’re paving the way.’

The Association of Professional Piercers (APP) and The UK Association of Professional Piercers (UKAPP) provide industry standards for body piercers. ‘There’s a lot of strict criteria to be a member. I’m not one yet but I try to work as closely to their criteria as I can. It shows there are people out there doing this properly, using good quality jewellery. Just like tattooing, it’s been viewed for a long time as a dark, dirty job.’

Times, they are a changing. I’m curious to hear why Shannon thinks people get piercings. ‘‘Self-expression mostly; you can completely put your own style on it. Three people can have the same piercings but the jewellery adornments can make them massively different – they put your personality into it. We can design a whole feature around a colour. You can have jewellery made especially for you.’

‘They can also really improve self-esteem – one of the very first navel piercings I did was on a curvy woman. She looked in the mirror and started crying saying, I’ve never been able to look at my stomach and like it before. That was a bit of a turning point for me, it became about what piercings could mean, what they could achieve.’

‘Some people have also been through trauma and it’s a way of them reclaiming that part of their body.’

Shannon can relate to how a piercing can transform how you think about your body. She used to hate her nose and the early plan was to eventually get plastic surgery to change it. ‘When I was 14 or 15, I found out about a person called Farrah Flawless (the artist’s formerly known as Pauly Unstoppable) – it was the first time I’d seen large gauge piercings in a face – she had lip plates, nostrils, I just fell in love with the uniqueness. I realised the future I wanted for me was to punch big holes out of my nose! So I did and now I love it – the shape and structure haven’t changed – I’ve just made it mine.’

Ear piercings are an incredibly popular option and it seems a lot of people draw the line there. ‘I’m quite extreme to some people; I’ve got 2cm missing out of my nostrils, 5cm off my ear lobes, but to me I’m just normal. There are people further into the extremity than me, but to them, they’re just normal too. Everyone has their limits.’

I share my personal body-piercing experience – an underage, in the moment decision to wind up my parents, resulting in a painful nose piercing from god-knows-who in some dingy backroom (I was 14 – we all learn).

Shannon sympathises, ‘If the piercer knows what they’re doing, there’s a much greater chance of success. This is why I push for premium jewellery that’s hand-polished with a quality finish so it’s nice and smooth. Poor quality jewellery will not be safe for inserting. Something cheap will be covered in nicks and scratches – if that’s passing through your body, it’s going to cause damage.’

‘Some people pay a fortune for rings and necklaces to go on their bodies, but as soon as it will be going through your body, into your bloodstream, connected to your heart, they go for the cheap option. The safety factor of that blows my mind. I think people are starting to think about this. This is what the APP are pushing – look after your body, you’ve only got one of them.’

I learn that not everyone’s anatomy is suitable for the piercings they want. For Shannon, she’s unable to get a cheek piercing she’d love due to a vein placement and a narrow ear rim prevents her from getting an Industrial (top of ear bar). ‘We’re all designed differently; it’s roughly the same mapping for everyone but you can have a large vein somewhere, your lip for example, that makes it impossible. I’ve too often seen piercings performed without these vital things being considered.’

Shannon’s flat-rate piercing charge is £25 and she’s able to offer a huge range of jewellery, at an additional cost, some of which would need to be ordered in. ‘We stock import grade titanium, 14K and 18K gold, laser etched Swarovski Crystals, semi-precious and precious stones. I can get genuine rubies and diamonds ordered too. We’ve got plain and fancy items to suit everyone.’ She also stocks Industry safe aftercare, available for an additional fee.

‘I’m the first and only piercer in Chester offering what I’m offering and there’s so much beauty to the jewellery, the majority of which has a lifetime guarantee. Whether it’s picked out the cabinet or made just for you, it will last you forever.’

Shannon prefers bookings to walk-ins, but both are available. She offers curated piercings, as well as body piercings and premium/industry standard jewellery. You can follow her on Instagram and Facebook and contact her for more information over either.