Outrage in Cheltenham as piercing hits town

IN A RADICAL transformation, the genteel Regency spa town of Cheltenham has cast off its Laura Ashley image in favour of body-piercing.

Cheltenham, local councillors insist, is no longer a place where retired colonels take tea but a happening town where a tattoo is de rigueur; stud- art, they believe, is the perfect way to "connect" with young voters.

The new image emerged as Cheltenham Borough Council issued a series of posters imploring young people to: "Make your mark, live by your choices, not someone else's. Register now and use your vote."

The most controversial of the posters features a photograph of 19-year- old Naomijo Hughes who sports a pierced nose, eyebrow, chin, cheek and tongue.

"I know Cheltenham used to be known for retired Indian colonels but that has all changed," said John Todman, the council's Conservative leader, said yesterday.

"It is a lively, young people's town and we are using the pictures of Naomijo to show them that the council want them to vote."

The posters have been greeted with less than delight by some of the locals - not least the author Jilly Cooper.

"It is a death wish for the town. It is like Helen of Troy suddenly covering herself in body piercing - she didn't need it and neither does Cheltenham," Ms Cooper, who lives in the nearby village of Bisley, said yesterday.

"Cheltenham is a beautiful, ravishing place. The young pour into Cheltenham looking incredibly glamorous, the flowers are wonderful and the town is just beautiful. This is a ridiculous image that won't appeal to anyone. It is an extraordinary thing to do."

Ms Hughes was discovered in a local body-piercing salon by a photographer who presented her picture to the council officials. They, in turn, decided she would be a perfect way of showing young people exactly what facilities they provide for youngsters. The other two posters picture young people enjoying the town's night life and new skateboard park.

Katherine Gunn, a council spokeswoman, said: "If anyone complained we would take their comments very seriously. I can see that the images are very striking. That is the intention behind them. We are trying to say we understand issues close to their hearts.

"We have body-piercing shops and tattooists in town, that is part of Cheltenham. It is not all Regency buildings and parks.

"Naomijo is expressing herself with the piercings and we would like to make the point that people can also express themselves in the polling booth."

Ms Hughes - who comes from Devon, dropped out of college, and spent pounds 200 on body piercing which her father is not "overly keen" on - has never voted. But she said yesterday: "If there was someone I wanted to vote for, I probably would now."

Her lack of democratic pedigree failed to dent the council's enthusiasm. "Naomijo was picked because of her body piercing rather than her democratic views," the spokeswoman insisted.