Mirror Magazine 2 Feb 2002

I love my ...

... big ol' Blake tattoo

Jeremy Sheffield, 35, may only playing surgeon Alex Adams in BBC1's Holby City, but it's clear he's no stranger to pain or needles in real life.

"My tattoo's from a painting by William Blake called The Ancient of Days. I used to be in the Royal Ballet and when i was 12 we were taken to the Tate Gallery to look at Blake's paintings because the choreographer was using them as inspiration for a ballet.  I loved his images, especially this one.  It's the architect of the world reaching down with a pair of compasses to measure the earth.  I always thought it'd make a great tattoo, so in my twenties I got a small print of it, which I carried with me for the next eight years.  

I wanted an image that no one else would have and I looked at it every few months wondering whether I still liked it.  Knowing it was going to be with me all my life meant I had to love it.  I got it done four years ago in London by a very well-respected tattooist.

It took about an hour and a half and really hurt.  I did ask if there was anything to take the pain away and they, being very hard-core tattoo fans, were slightly contemptuous, telling me the pain was part of the ritual.

I put it on my back so I wouldn't have to look at it all the time but it's a bit annoying because I can't see it!  So I'm now having another one of two fish done on my calf.  That's the trouble with tattoos - they're addictive.

On Holby City,  I had to clear it with the producers before I had my first shagging scene.  We decided we'd make it the character's tattoo, that it was something Alex Adams would have.  But for other characters, it's easy enough to cover up with make-up.

I did a series called Merlin with Sam Neill, Isabella Rossellini and Martin Short when I had to have it covered.  I was in the make-up chair when Martin Short saw it and he lectured me for hours about how unprofessional it was to have a tattoo, how if I wanted to be an actor, it'd be difficult for me to move into different characters.

I made a promise that every time I get a job I'd get a tattoo, so if you see me in ten years' time and I'm covered in tattoos, you'll know I'm rich and happy.  But if I have no more, it's because no one will employ me."

With thanks to John for getting me this one.