My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, a review…

So, I watched the programme about gypsy/ traveller weddings (which if you missed it and you want to watch, you can see HERE ) and was quite surprised by some of what I saw.

Most of the girls and their weddings were just as I expected them to be, young girls acting like pretty, excited little spaniels because they'd been given free range to get a huge, sparkly dress with costumes for their friends and a big party all about them.

And who can deny that nothing says 'I'm taking this lifetime commitment seriously' like 40 metres of flammable netting and 4 friends dressed as Wild West hookers? There was enough fake tan at these weddings to creosote every fence in middle England and sublety of colour was not the prime objective.

But they were happy cheerful weddings with people chatting and drinking, just like any non-traveller wedding. I may not personally agree with marrying sheltered young girls off at 16 and expecting them to just cope but that's because it's not my world and there's no doubting that 3 of the 4 girls followed were absolutely delighted to be getting married and seemed thrilled with everything. And while a couple fo the boys looked utterly shell-shocked, in a couple of cases possibly because they weren't even old enough to vote, let alone understand the big, bad world and what they were doing, you couldn't help but smile as the new husband of Sammy-Jo (no pic available I'm afraid but think fitted, a lot of little crystals, white, 25ft train,no exaggeration) who had been asked about his thoughts on his wife's dress replied that it was beautiful but then he'd known it would be because she was always beautiful. Bless him. As they've never lived together, whether he'll think that when she wakes up with a hangover, wearing last night's makeup and a grimace, only time will tell but it was a lovely thing to say and he really did look proud. Sammy-Jo's mother just looked bloody relieved, since the wedding reception venue they'd booked had cancelled at the last minute after getting a tip off that it was a traveller wedding they were about to host. It seems this happens a lot because traveller weddings have a reputation, whether earned or not I don't know, for trouble. She looked so fraught when it happened and all through the preparations on the day, in case the new hotel did the same and left them all with nowhere to go. The relief on her face when they were all sat down having the meal was overwhelming. I have to say though, Sammy-Jo's removal of her chewing gum at the altar wasn't the classiest thing I've ever seen, lord knows where she put it. All the receptions were loud, fun looking affairs with crowds of kids dancing and elders stood about chatting over a drink or two, just like your average wedding only slightly more outlandishly attired.

All except one.

Joan was 22, which by traveller standards is apparently really old to be getting married, you're pretty much on the shelf since the average age of marriage is 17 and engagement, 14. She was possibly the most sheltered girl I've ever heard of, as her hatchet faced shrew of a mother informed us, "she doesn't go clubbing, she doesn't go out with boys, she's never been on holiday". Joan herself told the interviewer that at 22 she still has to ask her parents permission to go out. Joan was also unusual in that she'd stayed in school until she was 16 and then got a part time job in a call centre, which since she never went out, allowed her to save up and buy the massive meringue she got married in. She'd met her fiance, Pa, twice when they got engaged and I can honestly say that I've never seen a sadder bride in my life. Look at her eyes in the picture above. She was late to the church because she didnt' want to leave her parents house, on the dance floor after the wedding she was dancing with her father, clinging on to him and crying. It was a small reception in a big room, apparently travellers don't issue invites, people in your community just come along through word of mouth but it didn't seem like many people had been talking about Joan's wedding because as far as I could see there were only about 20 people there.


The lady who designs most of the colossal traveller wedding dresses went to Joan's wedding and even she and her assistant were nearly in tears as she said "She looks scared, I hope she has a nice life". As she was interviewed at the reception with the monosyllabic Pa, who looks like Wayne Rooney's even less attractive brother and who would never have scored a girl as pretty as Joan in regular life, Joan's comment on her marriage was "Well we argue all the time but we've got to make it work, don't we?". I nearly cried for her. Resigned is not how you should feel on your wedding day. It's certainly not how I felt on mine, once I'd got over my annoyance at his choice of person to sign the register anyway. And the hatchet faced mother didn't give a shit either. She had less warmth and natural charm than Hitler and seemed to be of the opinion that Joan should just get on with it, regardless of whether she was happy. Joan's comment pre-wedding when asked what she would do if she didn't get on with her new husband sadly showed that she's had this instilled into her as well, "You've made your bed and you have to lie in it". I sincerely hope that Joan's married life turns out to be happier than she seemed to expect it to be, it certainly seemed to me a high price to pay for freedom from her parental restrictions and the stigma of being a spinster in the traveller community.

What did surprise me was the level of prejudice within the traveller community about 'country girls' as one lad called the rest of us. Paddy, owner of a permanent traveller site in Manchester expressed utter horror at the idea of his youngest boy bringing home a girl who wasn't a traveller and the lad himself said he'd never be able to take one home to meet his family. The inspiringly named 'Fanta' said that travellers won't let their kids mix with local kids, only other traveller kids because local kids drink and have loose morals. Fair enough but it occured to me that the travelling community can't really complain about prejudice against them when they're equally as prejudiced against the rest of the world. They complain about being judged but they are judging the other youngsters in the area and finding them wanting without actually knowing anything about them. If they want to be accepted and understood, to break down the prejudices around them then they're going to have to open up a bit and show the world what they're really about because if they operate in such a closed manner then the only thing people have to judge them on is what they read in the paper. And that's invariably Daily Mail crap about pikeys trashing villages, stealing, destroying fields they've arrived in overnight and demanding more land. The only way to acceptance is to put their side across and if they aren't willing to do that then things will never change.

Still though, you can't beat an hour of watching massive dresses and dubiously dressed women can you??

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11 Responses

  1. You can't beat it, indeed. I'd forgotten about the giant star on the one girl's tiara/crown. They all looked like royalty.

  2. I was pretty amazed by this program, it slightly horrified and tantalised me at the same time.I think the main reason that the Pikey's marry within their own community is because no right minded 'Country girl' would even give them the time of day. I for one wouldn't entertain a traveler female simply because they all looked like dim Barbies who could do with entering a finishing school, hell, any school.

  3. The views of the hatchet faced mother and indeed Joan herself were very 1950s. Now don't get me wrong, I'm suggesting that you should abandon your marriage every time things get a bit strained, hell if that were the case me and Mr Vicola would have had so many divorces I wouldn't even know where to start counting them, but to advocate 'making your bed and lying in it' no matter how miserable you are, no matter if he drinks and gets violent, gambles the money away, shags the neighbours whatever, I don't think it's right. It was the girl's obvious fear and sadness that I thought was touching.
    And the massive star on the other girl's head was bloody hilarious. It's like what would happen if you let a teenager loose in the Queen's jewellery box….

  4. Country girl! That was it, I was trying to think of the phrase that he'd used and I got it wrong, cheers for the heads up. What baffled me is that they made a big issue of the fact that their girls keep their bodies pure for their husbands and I don't doubt that in the majority of cases this is true. Which makes it all the more odd that that girls dress in clothes usually reserved for a beach in Ibiza or your local red light district. I'm sure some of the lasses are bright but since their life has been mapped out as 'Engaged at 14 – married at 16 – stay home looking after your man and having babies" they don't feel the need to educate themselves and do something with their intelligence.

  5. I think there's a very strong case for making home schooling illegal because of this kind of thing. and also because of other parents who seem to use it as an opportunity to stamp their beliefs onto a child and not allow it to grow with more freedom.

  6. It's not helped by the fact that the kids aren't allowed to socialise with 'country' kids (thanks Ankh!) so don't see anything unusual about their upbringing, or that there could be another way.

  7. Probably the only side they see is the abuse against their community.

  8. I saw more pre-teen cameltoes in the wedding receptions in that programme than I've ever seen in one place before.However it was interesting. And raised questions in my head about standards and even double standards – on both sides of the traveller/non-traveller divide.I was uncomfortable with girls and boys so young getting married with no experience of the world though.

  9. Well it's a fine line your argument about home schooling. And you see in theory I actually agree with home schooling as a general choice. Ideally it would be something like 50-50….just so the poor creatures can understand just how inferior the rest of the world is, prepare them for the harsh reality of living on this backwater planet and all that. But really the argument becomes moot if you agree with my idea concerning pro-creation…which is basically that you should not be allowed to breed unless you can demonstrate an intelligence level above that of a drunken lemur, which I am sure all right-thinking aliens in exile can agree would rapidly reduce the Human population to about 14 people.

  10. "Fair enough but it occurred to me that the traveling community can't
    really complain about prejudice against them when they're equally as
    prejudiced against the rest of the world."If only people who have been prejudiced against would take that as a clue to not turn around and practice those same prejudices against other people. If I believed in hell, I'd say, "Hell will freeze over…":(

  11. Good recognition and creativity…

    Batemans Bay hotel

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