You could probably count the number of hard rockers without tattoos on one hand -- but now you can put down one of those fingers. At 52, legendary Def Leppard axeman Phil Collen finally decided to go under the needle along with his new wife, Helen Simmons, 42, who's also a tattoo virgin. And it wasn't any old parlor they decided to duck into to get the job done. The couple tapped famed tat artist Kat Von D to ink them up in front of her L.A. Ink camera crew shortly before their July wedding. That episode premiered last week and re-airs tonight on TLC at 9 p.m., but I caught up with Collen beforehand to ask what was behind the decision.
Phil Collen: I've never really conformed to the stereotype; I've always done things a little differently. I've never felt the urge to do that, and it's really not a mid-life crisis. For me, the not drinking, being a vegetarian, all that stuff that sort of goes against the grain a bit, but it's not done on purpose. I always appreciated tattoos, but it just seemed like a really real thing to do. I met someone who I was madly in love with and we wanted to do it, and it was actually really cool. We are thrilled about it and even this morning we go, 'oh we love our tattoos!'
US: Why did you both wait this long?
PC: The motive wasn't like, 'oh I’m a lead guitar player in a metal band.' It was because I've met the love of my life. It was really symbolic of that and it was a beautiful thing.
US: So what tattoos did you get?
PC: We just got each other's names, and the thing was that we were very specific about it. We saw this L.A. Mexican gang tattoo, and we sort of wanted it to look a bit gangster.
US: How did you even find that?
PC: We actually looked up some tattoos online and we saw this Old English font and there are a million different ways you can go with that. When we took it to Kat we said, 'we want this below the belly button on one side,' and she said 'well I think you should curve it like this...' I can’t stop looking at it in the mirror!
Us: When did you get them done?
PC: We got them done May 26 and they're on our right side below the bellybutton.
US: So is this sort of like a thing to do before you get married?
PC: We thought about doing it before that, but just the way it turned out, the tattoo came up first, so we were like 'OK we’ll do that!'
US: How did you get involved with Kat Von D?
PC: Being 52 and a virgin as far as tattoos go, it was really important so we had actually done a bit of research on it and her name came up. She's got the best resume in the world and a TV show, so you see her stuff and she's very artistic. If someone is going to be fucking with our bodies, we better have someone that we trust and someone who is actually artistic. Then it turned out that we could actually do it on the show and that was cool! The only problem with that was that, you know with both of us never having a tattoo, I didn't know if I'd start crying in front of the cameras passing the pain threshold, but it actually didn't hurt.
US: Did you hold hands to support each other?
PC: Totally. We definitely held hands, not that we needed to though! It didn’t really hurt! She went in and I was like 'have you started yet?' She said, 'Yeah!' Towards the end, it began to hurt a bit when she started doing the shading and stuff.
US: What was it really like getting inked by Kat Von D?
PC: Again, we were virgins so we weren't sure how the whole process worked. She actually does put a tracing paper on your body just for the placing of it. I'd seen other tattoos and thought, 'wow, that's cool, but the symmetry is all wrong.' But with Kat, her symmetry and placement was perfect. We already chose where it was going to be, but she kind of moved it a little bit and said, 'you should do it at an angle.' So it goes along with the muscle line and all of that stuff so it was just great and we were in such great hands.
US: Was her boyfriend Jesse James around?
PC: He wasn't. She was with Nikki Sixx when the show started -- she wasn't with Jesse yet. I was surprised when she hooked up with Jesse because she was so into Nikki. I know Nikki is really cool and they would have been a great couple but things happen.
US: What do you think of her being with Jesse James?
PC: He's always been villianized. I can't really comment on the fact that he is villianized because of the whole Sandra Bullock thing, but there are always two sides to every story. Kat is so cool and Sandra Bullock seems really cool as well, so he must have some redeeming qualities So whether or not he's the devil people make him out to be, he's surely got some good points as well.
US: So how is married life anyway?
PC: It's amazing. Within an hour of meeting her, it kind of freaked me out because I was like, 'wow, I didn’t think this was actually real.' I had written songs about it and I’d seen it in movies and you think, 'oh no, it doesn’t really exist, it doesn’t happen that way', and I've been married twice before and this is just totally different. So I just love it.
US: Did you have time to go on a honeymoon?
PC: We haven’t really gone on a honeymoon. We got married in West Palm Beach, Florida, which is where I asked her to marry me. We went back to the scene of the crime and had a beautiful wedding. It was all vegetarian, no alcohol. Later on we are going to do like, temples in Cambodia and Sri Lanka and things like that. Or maybe an African safari!
US: So are you guys talking more kids?
PC: Yeah! It would be nice if it happens. I do have kids so I've been through that whole thing, but we would like that. At the moment we are just loving each other and loving the whole thing, but both of us are extremely busy so we have to grab any second we can get.
US: So what else is new professionally?
PC: The Def Leppard album will be out next year. I'm actually doing it from home. I just use my guitar and my laptop, which is outrageous. You don’t even need an amp anymore! I just plug into my mac and off I go!