No Passport For The Body Art Man
February 6, 2014

No Passport For The Body Art Man

Mathew Whelan is an angry man. This perambulating kaleidoscope of color is Britain’s most tattooed man and he has been refused a UK passport. This has really got under his multi-colored skin. The UK Government’s Guidelines for passport photos clearly states that a photo will be rejected unless “they show you without anything covering the face…without a head covering” and “without red eye,” and you might think that Mathew’s mug-shot was thrown out because he failed one of those criteria. But no, although his face is almost totally covered in ink and he has even had one of his eyeballs tattooed, Mathew Whelan’s application was kicked out because of his name.

It seems Mr. Whelan, who hails from the Midlands city of Birmingham, can’t leave anything about himself unchanged. Not satisfied with spending £25,000 having 90 percent of his body pictorially embellished in 2007 and again in 2009, he decided to change his name by Deed Poll to “King of Ink Land King Body Art The Extreme Ink-Ite.” Wow, I think that needs a user friendly short form don’t you? He is often called Body Art for short, but I think I prefer “Ite.” So come on mate, calm down – if you were here now, I would say, “sshhhh Ite, don’t get so upset.” Yes, the passport office turned him down not because of his looks, but due to the name change. A spokeswoman for the passport office said, “When an applicant changes his or her name to a string of words or phrases that would not normally be recognised as a name, this should not be entered onto the personal details page of the passport.”

It seems Mathew can have his passport if he uses his birth name, but he his digging his heels in saying that’s not his real name and that his human rights have been breached. When he applied for a Driving License using his new name, it was accepted and now he has written to the passport office asking why the Driver Vehicle Licensing Authority can accept it, but it is not acceptable for a passport. He has also enlisted the help of his local Member of Parliament, John Hemming, who has taken up the case. Mathew is particularly disappointed at the refusal of a passport because he had been offered a job overseas doing “body modification.”

The story was originally covered in the Birmingham Mail and picked up by the Daily Mirror, which features a not very inspiring video of Mathew turning his head from side to side, showing off his tattooed head.

Changing your name is not as easy as it seemed at first for Mathew and, apart from the “string of words” clause, name changes can be rejected for other reasons. Passports can be refused if the name change is frivolous, done for a bet or “on a whim,” or if it was for commercial gain. Other name-changers have suffered a similar fate, including a woman who became “Mrs. Pudsey Bear” after the teddy bear that is the emblem of Britain’s annual fund raising day Children in Need, and a certain Samantha Holloway who became “HMP Holloway” after that esteemed establishment – Her Majesty’s Prison Holloway – which is a famous womens’ prison in London. Around the world other banned names have included “4Real,” “Cinderella Beauty Blossom,” and, my pick of the bunch “Talula Does The Hula” from Hawaii.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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Eric Hopton is a writer, musician, artist, and photographer. He has a degree in Social Anthropology and has always been passionate about travel, having so far visited 73 countries. His music and sound work has been used in many projects around the world and can be heard on Bandcamp and Freesound, where he has contributed over 1,300 sounds under his sonic alter ego, ERH.

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