Hong Kong Sevens

All things bright and beautiful

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 March, 2012, 12:00am

Mae West's mantra, 'It is better to be looked over than overlooked', is the driving force behind many Sevens costumes - some of which take months of planning. Among the best, though, are looks created in the stadium by Catriona Finlayson, who has received multiple awards internationally, including UK Face and Body Festival Face Painter of the Year.

Her involvement is at the behest of the Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation (HKYAF). Finlayson began busying herself with her brushes at the Sevens when she lived here. Now that she lives in Norwich, England, the HKYAF flies her in every year.

Over the past six years, Finlayson confesses she's had some pretty unusual requests from fans. 'I've painted an American football helmet on a bald chap, Amy Winehouse tattoos and a full-body pink tiger. Not to forget several red and white Avatars with Hong Kong bauhinias and loads of blue Avatars. One Avatar came back to tell me he felt like a Pied Piper as people kept following him all day taking photos. He'd come along with the wig and the skirt and just needed to be painted.'

Finlayson's body of work for the Sevens also includes a Rambo and, at the other end of the spectrum, a man who wanted to be made into a sparkly pink statue with gold drips. 'A hairy Welshman asked for a full-torso dragon, and [another] hairy masculine young man, [who] must have been metrosexual... asked me to transform him into a flowery-butterfly Hawaiian hula-girl.'

Painting bodies not only takes concentration, it also requires a sense of humour and there have been several moments that have made Finlayson smile.

'One year, I was asked by a whole team of young, fit men to paint their torsos as if they [were wearing] Hong Kong rugby team shirts. They came back to tell me that many people had teased them about their shirts being too tight. They looked so real. They had rubbed off patches to show bare skin around their nipples so that people realised it was paint.'

Not all Finlayson's special Sevens moments have been with a paintbrush in hand, though. 'I will never forget a bunch of African fans stopping to sing beautiful a capella tribal songs on Leighton Road. Hundreds of happy fans stopped to listen. It showed the good behaviour after the match, unlike what you see after big soccer matches around the world.'

One of the newer areas of body painting involves pregnant bellies and Finlayson is keen for bumps to paint this weekend.

'It's such a smooth, flat, wide canvas - how could I not? In the EU and USA 'baby bump art' is one of the fastest growing areas of my industry. I would have loved it if someone had sat me down to decorate my bump and make me feel beautiful. It's a great image and memory of a special time. Often the babies seem to join in and wriggle as I 'tickle' mum with my brushes.'

Finlayson has her loyal regular fans who rock up every year and offer up their bodies and faces as blank canvases. 'They like the effect, and that the money goes to the HKRFU's Charitable Trust Fund. At HK$50 for a rugby ball on the cheek to HK$600 for a half torso, it's a pretty cheap Sevens costume. And you don't have to store it!'

The Sevens has been a labour of love, blood, sweat and body paint for Finlayson, who would not have it any other way. 'I paint at lots of big events around the world and it's the songs and crowds here I love the best. The Hong Kong Sevens is like the very friendly rugby matches my grandpa took me to in Scotland as a kid, but more colourful. It also doesn't hurt that on my breaks I can watch strapping young men in shorts dashing around the pitch.'