Privately educated woman, 23, reveals how she has more than 30 tattoos to her father’s dismay

Hetti Harper, 23, (pictured) says she has lost count of the number of tattoos she has dotted around her body

Five years on, David Harper still vividly remembers the day his daughter got her first visible tattoo — an etching of the Mayan symbol for autumn on her wrist. 

He recalls his fury as he told Hetti, then 18, that she’d ‘ruined herself’ with this ‘degrading stamp she would regret’.

In an admission that will resonate with many parents, he hoped that it was a single act of rebellion and comforted himself that at least the tattoo was easy to hide.

Yet in the years that have passed, Hetti’s appetite for tattoos has not waned. Quite the opposite.

Now 23, she has lost count of the number she has dotted around her body, from her classically trained pianist’s fingers to her slender ankles. 

She estimates that she has ‘more than 30’.

With time, David, an antiques-dealer-turned-TV-presenter, got better at keeping his thoughts about his daughter’s inkings to himself — attitudes towards tattoos can be dramatically different between generations, with those in their 20s accepting them in a way that many older people will simply never understand.

What the young see as ‘self-expression’ and ‘body art’ are sneered at by those who still associate tattoos with drunken sailors on shore leave, and prisoners.

The feelings of sadness about how his little girl was, as he saw it, defiling the perfect body that he and Hetti’s mum had nurtured, never went away. David, 52, hoped each tattoo would be the last.

Imagine his horror, therefore, when he met up with his daughter for a coffee in London a few weeks ago, and saw an ugly scrawl across Hetti’s chest.

It was a string of Latin words, Parvis Imbutus Tentabis Grandia Tutus, which, roughly translated, means: ‘When you are steeped in little things, you shall safely attempt great things’.

It’s not hard to imagine David’s reaction when he realised — irony of ironies — that the inking was actually the motto of the private school he and his wife Wendy, 57, had paid for Hetti to attend, hoping it would give their daughter the best start in life.

It particularly stung that the couple had made sacrifices so she could go there. In fact, they had decided to have just one child because their finances wouldn’t stretch to school fees for more.

Hetti Harper, 23, (left) pictured with her father David Harper (right) who presents TV's Bargain Hunt and Antiques Road Trip

Hetti Harper, 23, (left) pictured with her father David Harper (right) who presents TV’s Bargain Hunt and Antiques Road Trip

David, who lives in County Durham, turned to Twitter to (mostly jokingly) demand a refund of the £200,000 fees from the school, on the basis that Hetti was now providing free advertising via her tattoo.

In an exclusive interview this week, David, who presents TV’s Bargain Hunt and Antiques Road Trip, said: ‘I honestly didn’t know whether to laugh or cry — tattoos were referred to as ‘tramp stamps’ when I was younger, and only a certain type of woman had them.

‘I told Wendy over the phone, and her response was: ‘She has the school motto tattooed on her chest? You’ve got to be kidding.’ I said: ‘I’m not.’ ‘

Their daughter lives in a shared flat in Central London, having moved there four years ago. As a regular visitor to the capital for work, David has inevitably seen more of her than Wendy has.

Hetti has her former school's motto tattooed on her chest in Latin. 'Parvis Imbutus Tentabis Grandia Tutus' roughly translates as: 'When you are steeped in little things, you shall safely attempt great things'

Hetti has her former school’s motto tattooed on her chest in Latin. ‘Parvis Imbutus Tentabis Grandia Tutus’ roughly translates as: ‘When you are steeped in little things, you shall safely attempt great things’

Consequently, it has been up to him to update his wife about any new tattoos and piercings — to which Hetti is also no stranger. She has nose rings and a belly button piercing, as well as five ear piercings.

He adds: ‘I went ballistic when she had the first tattoo. I was genuinely furious and told her she was going to have to live with it for ever, but that didn’t stop her having more.

‘As she’s now an adult, living independently in London, there wasn’t much more I could say.

‘Still, I’d plead with her: ‘Promise me you won’t have your chest or your neck tattooed, darling,’ because I knew those areas would be very difficult to hide — and future employers just wouldn’t like it.

‘When I thought she was looking elsewhere, I’d surreptitiously scan her body quickly for new additions I needed to report back on.’

Hetti, a singer in rock band Tiffany Twisted, appears genuinely astonished to hear her father talk about her tattoos this way.

‘Bloody hell, I didn’t know it was such an issue,’ says Hetti, shaking her head, with its long pink and yellow locks.

‘And why is it when I’ve been living away from home for four years and I’m pretty successful, generally?

‘Talking about having to ‘break the news’ to Mum makes it sound as if I’ve done something really terrible, like I murdered somebody. And yet Mum hasn’t said a word to me about this, or any of my other tattoos.’

This undoubtedly has much to do with her parents’ decision to avoid reference to their daughter’s skin adornments — an approach many parents of grown-up children may recognise — for fear of driving her away.

Hetti, however, points out that she always knew when her dad was checking for new tattoos. ‘I hated it,’ she says.

In fact, she would purposely wear long sleeves, black tights and high collars to prevent her dad detecting new inkings.

But one warm afternoon this month, a fear of getting too hot on the Tube meant her chest, together with the tattoo she’d got a month earlier, was on show.

In fact, it quickly becomes apparent that Hetti’s many tattoos actually have very little to do with rebellion, and instead have a much more poignant motivation.

Dig a little deeper and it’s clear that this passion for body adornments, which began in her early teens, may have more psychological roots.

‘I can’t remember a time when I felt happy with my body,’ says Hetti, as her dad looks on aghast — while he was aware she was unhappy with her body, he didn’t realise that was why she had tattoos.

‘I’ve always had such a problem with my appearance, and tattooing changed my whole perspective on myself,’ she says.

‘If I dislike any part of my body, I tattoo over it, or near it, and I no longer feel that way.

‘Before having tattoos I would stay covered up and have none of my skin exposed.

‘Since I’ve been tattooed, I don’t feel the need to do that. Going to the beach is easy — and I used to despise it.’

As the pin drops, David is saddened and shocked.

‘She’s recently posted pictures of herself on Instagram, on the beach in a bikini, and, now I think of it, we never saw her in a bikini prior to tattoos, so that makes sense,’ he says. ‘She was always self-conscious about her body.

‘We used to say to her: ‘Hetti, you’re absolutely gorgeous and you have a lovely little figure,’ but she would never believe us.’

To those of us who, like her parents, are of a different generation, can Hetti articulate the appeal of having these images and words etched all over her peachy, youthful skin?

‘I guess it’s an escape,’ she says. ‘Some people drink. Some people watch Netflix. Some people get tattooed. It’s my second love, after music.

‘It’s a real relief when I come up with the idea of a tattoo and then get it done.’

Hetti, a tiny size six, says she now feels part of a ‘tribe’. While those considerably older than her may be guilty of doing the opposite, if she’s ever lost, she instinctively seeks the assistance of someone with tattoos.

In fact, during the course of our interview, Hetti reveals she has an even newer tattoo, on her forearm.

This one is of an anatomically accurate heart with the words ‘Not rock ‘n’ roll’ around it. Like many of her tattoos — among them a weeping eye, an anchor, the word ‘Homesick’ and the Latin motto — it was done for free by a friend who works in a chemistry laboratory. 

He is not a trained tattooist, and instead uses something called the stick and poke method.

While unavoidably bloody, Hetti insists it’s not a painful process. She adds that there is no risk of infection, as the single-use needles are bought in sterile packs, just like those used by professionals.

Of her decision to have her school motto tattooed on her skin, she says: ‘A few weeks ago, all the hard work I’d put into my music career started to pay off. 

‘I’d got a band together and we started getting bookings so the translation of it — ‘Once you’ve achieved small things you can achieve great things’ — applied to my life and I wanted a tattoo as a constant reminder.’

The band now has bookings up until November, and Hetti is no longer reliant on waitressing to support herself.

Yet according to David, she never seemed particularly fond of school while she was there.

She found the rules banning make-up and hair dye stifling, and was eager to leave long before she finally did, aged 18, with a clutch of good GCSEs and A levels in English Literature, Spanish and French.

Having deferred a place to study modern languages at Northumbria University for a year, she decided higher education was not for her and headed to London to pursue her dreams of a singing career.

But like any parent paying £15,000 a year in school fees — some terms his erratic freelance earnings meant he had no choice but to put them on a credit card — David’s ambitions for his daughter, the head chorister and a grade 6 piano student, were somewhat different.

‘I was so terribly proud of her, this angel heading up the beautiful church choir at Barnard Castle School in County Durham,’ he says.

‘I thought she’d take a classical route and grow out of her passion for heavy rock. I didn’t foresee her becoming a full-on tattooed rock star.’

Now Hetti says she wouldn’t dream of dating a man with un-inked skin either — a fact her parents have come to terms with, having welcomed Hetti’s boyfriends into their home over the years.

It was the break-up of her most recent relationship, with a fellow tattooed musician, which inspired her latest heart inking.

David is visibly delighted, and clearly relieved, that his daughter’s musical ambitions are coming to fruition, despite her admission that she may eventually have tattoos on her neck and face.

While he may now have a better understanding of her reasons for wanting tattoos, he still admits to a ‘sneaking satisfaction’ when Hetti complains that strangers are ‘forever asking’ her to translate the motto on her chest.

And perhaps here is the biggest irony of all. For all its elevated meaning, the tattooist initially misspelt the private school motto, requiring an S to be turned into a B.

As a teacher she has to cover her inkings

Poppy Burnett, 26, (pictured) is a maths teacher and has a mathematical equation tattooed on her shoulder

Poppy Burnett, 26, (pictured) is a maths teacher and has a mathematical equation tattooed on her shoulder

Kathy Box, 56, from Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, works in sales, while her daughter Poppy Burnett, 26, is a maths teacher.

Kathy says: Poppy has always been passionate about numbers — she got a first class degree in maths — but I was unbelievably upset when she got a mathematical equation tattooed on her shoulder (right) shortly after her 18th birthday.

She has since had another four tattoos: a phoenix on one ankle; a cat on another; the word ‘cariad’ on one inner wrist, which means love in Welsh; and a heart rhythm line, with a blue heart, on the other.

I didn’t want her to spoil her lovely skin, and people have second thoughts about them as they get older. 

But she’s a grown-up, married woman, so I have no say in what she does. 

Poppy is such a clever girl, and I thought she’d have more sense than to do something so many still take a dim view of.

In fact, she’s starting a new job at a grammar school in September and it has said her tattoos must be covered at all times. 

This will mean wearing wrist bands all the time, as well as trousers or thick tights — even on hot days. I haven’t said ‘I told you so’ because I don’t think that would be helpful.

Poppy says: Each of my tattoos has real personal significance to me, representing love and friendship.

It’s body art — something I get to take with me wherever I go. But I know that, to my mum, there is a stigma associated with tattoos.

For her generation, they used to be associated with less respectable people in society. We don’t argue about them any more, thankfully.