‘I was looking at death’: how the world’s most tattooed man, Lucky Diamond Rich, came back from the brink
Performer and tattooist Lucky Rich has overcome drug addiction and is now living a relatively ‘normal’ life after years of excess. Photograph: Christopher Hopkins/The Guardian
The Australian found fame as a highly decorated performer but slipped into drug addiction and homelessness before turning his life around
L ucky Diamond Rich was at the top of his game in 2007. Travelling the globe, making “ridiculous” money doing circus performances and just crowned the most tattooed man in the world by Guinness World Records. By 2017 he was homeless, living in a storage facility, addicted to crystal meth and slipping into psychosis.
Back in 1987, when Rich was 16, he got his first tattoo, a small juggling bat on his hip. He made sure it was easy to hide, afraid his mother would disapprove.
Rich was born Gregory McClaren, and back then he was an oddball teenager from a dysfunctional family in Brisbane who joined the circus to avoid falling into a life of crime.
At 49 Lucky Rich is building a new life, complete with an apartment, two dogs and his loving partner, Megan. Photograph: Christopher Hopkins/The Guardian
“I was instantly attracted to tattoos,” he says. “Any money I would get from performing, I would invest it back into getting tattooed,” he says. “I already felt different from a young age, so to look different too? I never second-guessed it.”
The more tattoos he got, the more popular he became, and he was able to live comfortably flying from country to country, earning money as a street performer and partying every night till dawn.
In order to become the world’s most tattooed man, Rich covered everything from his eyelids to his gums to his genitals.
“I’m more than 100% covered,” he says. “I’ve had tattoos over tattoos over tattoos.”
People would stare, but Rich didn’t mind. Instead, he just felt sorry for those living the drudgery of a nine-to-five life.
“In London, when I came out of the Covent Garden station, there was this street sweeper guy who would always be whistling and singing. And I remember looking at him and I had a weird resentment, this anger,” he says.
In his younger days Lucky Rich didn’t mind people’s stares – he felt sorry for those living the drudgery of a nine-to-five life. Photograph: Christopher Hopkins/The Guardian
“Further down the track, I realised that the reason why I was angry was because that guy had something that I didn’t – an internal happiness.
“I was making ridiculous amounts of money. Anyone would think that I would be the happiest man on the planet, but I was quite sad. Successful but empty.”
Partying was a staple of Rich’s 30-year career, but what started as a few drinks quickly became lines of cocaine, and eventually turned into an addiction to crystal meth.
“That was the drug that brought me to my knees,” he says.
It’s like night and day if you look at my life three years ago and now
He would get clean for years at a time but always slip back into old habits. “You know, you’re the most tattooed man in the world and people are wanting to show you a good time.”
Rich always lived a nomadic lifestyle, but when he started using too often to even perform, homelessness stopped being a choice and became an unavoidable reality.
“I had all my stuff in the storage unit already, and I just started sleeping there,” he says.
“I started losing my mind. I thought there was a whole bunch of stuff going on that wasn’t … I was always getting in trouble with the police. Basically, for the first time in my life, I felt probably as crazy as I looked,” he says. “I was looking at death, institutionalisation or jail.
Lucky Rich in his home tattoo studio, which has been unusable during the Covid-19 lockdown. Photograph: Christopher Hopkins/The Guardian
“A friend of mine who worked in a rehab in Sydney called and asked me how I was doing. And I decided to let him know that I wasn’t doing that great.”
Rich’s friend told him there was a bed for him if wanted it, he just needed to fly to New South Wales.
“The day I got the money to buy the ticket, a drug dealer turned up in front of me … I had this moment where I was like: do I want my life back or do I want this drug?The Australian found fame as a highly decorated performer but slipped into drug addiction and homelessness before turning his life around
‘I’m no different to anyone else’ – meet Lucky Diamond Rich, the world’s most tattooed man
Meet Lucky Diamond Rich, the world’s most tattooed man.
Born in New Zealand as Gregory Paul McLaren, an extraordinary and record-breaking future lay ahead of him.
He grew up to be a performer, joining the circus aged just 16. As he got older, his repertoire expanded to include chainsaw-juggling, unicycling and sword-swallowing – and a brand-new name.
But how did his unusual name come about?
“I guess I’m lucky by nature; to be able to juggle a chainsaw, to be able to swallow swords, ride a ten-foot unicycle,” he explained.
“Diamond came about because my friends call me a bit of a rough diamond, and Rich because I’m rich in spirit.”
Aside from his name and his profession, Lucky’s stand out feature is of course his heavily tattooed skin.
His layers of ink have earned him the record for most tattooed man (current), a record he has held for over a decade.
It’s been calculated that Lucky has spent more than 1,000 hours having his body modified by tattoo artists.
In addition to his tattoos, Lucky has had his earlobes stretched and has his teeth replaced with silver veneers, as well as various piercings throughout his life.
His striking image can evoke many different reactions – not all of which are positive.
“What other people think of me is none of my business. I don’t get my self-esteem from what others think of me. I like myself today,” he said.
“Everyone’s different with how they react. It’s like the weather, you can’t predict it, you can’t control it, you just deal with it as it comes.
“I’m no different to anyone else, I’m just heavily tattooed. I bleed like anyone else, I have the same sorts of problems that most people have living through their daily life.”
The road to Lucky’s iconic look has humble beginnings.
“The first tattoo I ever had I was 16 – I was travelling with the circus in Australia,” he recalled.
“I’d never been tattooed before and I got a small juggling club on my hip. I got it on my hip because I didn’t want my mum to see it.
“Just one tattoo at a time I guess, that’s how everyone does it.”
Do you have a question for Lucky Diamond Rich? Leave it in the comments below or on Facebook/Twitter with your name and town you’re from.
After his initial tattoo, Lucky waited two years before getting another.
“I got tattooed again when I was 18, and then I got regularly tattooed as much as I could.”
“I’ve met a lot of tattooists from all over the world, so I don’t have any particular tattooist that I go to. It’s wherever I ended up. I just said ‘here’s a section of my body, go for it’.
“I was performing all over the world, travelling as a street performer. With the money that I made, I put it back into how I look. It seemed like the right thing to do, karmically.
Ten years on from when his obsession began, Lucky had his first body suit completed – a body suit being an extensive themed tattoo that covers the entire torso or the entire body.
“I got my first body suit completed when I was 28. Then I started going over the tops of tattoos I already had.”
“I blacked my entire body in, and I was going over the top of that with white, and then colour over that. It’s just layers on layers.”
He now boasts more than 200% coverage, including his eyelids, the delicate skin between the toes, the upper part of the ear canals and even his gums.
Despite his multitude of tattoos, Lucky is of the opinion that he just has one.
“I have one tattoo and it’s the biggest one on the planet. It’s multi-layered which means I’ve had more than one layer of ink. In some areas it’s three or four layers. I’m 100%, plus layers.
“I don’t have any particular favourites, every one has got a story attached to it. My favourite tattoo is the one I’ve ended up with.”
You’d think that someone who’s received so many tattoos over the years would have at least one regret, but Lucky is adamant he does not.
“No. I don’t regret anything that I’ve got or done. I think that’s a fear that people have that aren’t tattooed. You can always get them fixed, covered, changed, or removed.”
After retaining the title and breaking his own record for so many years, Lucky has decided to be the other end of the needle.
“I haven’t been tattooed for about 6 years. These days I tattoo people. I get to enjoy the buzz through doing it for others.”
Despite not topping up his tattoos in years, no-one has beaten Lucky’s record.
He once tied the record with the aptly named Tom Leppard (UK) who resides on the Isle of Skye. Tom has covered 99.9% of his skin with a leopard print design, the skin between the dark spots tattooed saffron yellow.
But after adding more layers, Lucky is the clearly in the lead when it comes to record-breaking ink.
“When I was a kid, I’d look in the book, and think how amazing it would be to be that person in the Guinness World Records book.
“It’s an honour and a privilege. To have young kids come up and want to get a photo because they recognise me.”Lucky Diamond Rich has been the world's most tattooed man for over a decade. He's spent more than 1,000 hours having his body modified by tattoo artists. In addition to his tattoos, Lucky has had his earlobes stretched and has his teeth replaced with silver veneers, as well as various piercings throughout his life. ]]>