By Martha Hewett @martha_hewett
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Videographer / director: Theo Sefanini
Producer: Martha Hewett, Ruby Coote
Editor: Marcus Cooper
Sylvain Helaine, 33, was born in Paris, but he got his first tattoo when he was 27 year old whilst living in London, after feeling inspired by the expression of body modification in the capital.
Over the next four years, Sylvain continued his ink-fuelled journey and now has tattoos covering his body, genitals, gums, feet and even has a snake travelling down his skull.
Sylvain told Barcroft TV: “I will never stop getting tattoos because I am passionate about it, one day I will end up fully covered in black ink.”
He added: “When I started getting tattooed, I wanted half of body a mix between old school and rock n roll style and other half of my body drawing in Japanese inspiration.”
Sylvain has been a teacher for over 10 years, and was a martial arts coach prior to that.
“I used to teach karate and judo, but I keep training on a daily basis to keep up my body weight, and I run after naughty children in the school obviously.”
Sylvain now splits his time between modelling, teaching and pursuing a career as a comedian.
But working as a supply teacher means Sylvain has had to work in schools where people don’t know him, which can cause an issue.
“When parents don’t recognise me, they are sceptical because they’d see me – a male teacher covered in tattoos on the playground – and it’s weird for them."
However, it’s not just the parents of students who have found difficulty with Sylvain’s look, but rather the elder generation.
“Sometimes an old grandmother will see me in the playground and call my boss to say, ‘Hey, who was that weird guy around the children?’
“But as soon as they see I’m an intelligent teacher they are okay.”
Surprisingly, it’s the students who are more comfortable with his striking appearance.
“Some of the children are afraid when they see me, usually when they are younger, but it goes away really fast and after a couple of minutes they are fine.
“They are more surprised because I’m a male teacher – not because of the tattoos,” Sylvain explained.
Despite the initial reactions to his appearance, teaching gives Sylvain a deep sense of fulfilment.
“What I like most about it is you can mould these young minds; you can try to make them a better person and help them to make the world a better place."
In terms of children and tattoos, Sylvain strongly believes it is a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
“You’ve got to be mature enough to get a tattoo, 18 at least. I first got mine at 27, and even then, I was a bit of a child.”
Now, however, Sylvain shows little signs of stopping, despite having spent over £35,000 already.
“When you love it, you don’t count the money.
“I will keep covering myself layer after layer, ending up black – not necessarily because I want to but because the more you cover the darker you get.”
But with tattooing comes pain, yet not enough to make him stop.
“I would say the most painful tattoos were the flanks by my gut and the genitals, obviously.
“I have thought about my eyes next, but I might lose my sight and that would be bad because I really like video games and television.”
Naturally, Sylvain’s family were shocked and upset, but have grown to understand this is his passion.
His sister, Brigitte, recalled visiting Sylvain in London where he showed her his first sleeve.
“I fell back in my chair and couldn’t move, I was in shock. But after he explained, I thought it was great - he’s doing what he wants to do.”
For Sylvain, that is exactly the point – he will continue doing this for as long as he wants to.
“When you’re passionate about something, it is never too much – as long as it doesn’t hurt my health, I’ll keep going forever,” he said.
And for those who criticise?
“I’m just a regular guy, a schoolteacher – once they realise they should never judge a book by its cover, everything goes smoothly.”