Thursday, 20 January 2011

Big Fat Gypsy Wedding

Could not let TV Channel 4’s Big Fat Gypsy Wedding go by without offering a few thoughts – could I? It wouldn’t be right!

Firstly, these were, going by their accents, Irish Travellers rather than Romany Gypsies. Please correct me, someone, if I am wrong. They rarely mix.

People scoff, ridicule, and look down upon the sheer brash lavishness, bright pink vulgarity, the width and weight of the dresses and so on. They will decry the 'sexual attacks’ in the apparent ‘grabbing’ rituals, the brainwashing of young girls into early marriage, a lifetime of childbearing and polishing, with no career options, that turns the clock back … I have read and heard many times over that Gypsies are known for saying what people want to hear, which they openly admit, and the girls seemed only too happy to gyrate and posture for what the cameras wanted to shoot. Displaying the ‘big knickers’; un-British ignorance of Audrey Hepburn (not that surprising considering the age group); and arguably the most ungainly walk a bride has ever managed in the history of weddings, caused no apparent embarrassment. Just pure enjoyment it seemed, in some unreal bubble of a world where modest virgins dress like tarts. Makes for good television. Yes, I know all that, but moving on.

Did you notice the underlying positives? How happy and healthy the people in this programme were? Shiny hair, bright eyes, beautiful skin, bodacious physiques? How spotless their clothes and everything about them? What a lovely sense of humour? The loyalty to family and kinship group? In some ways the (I have to say, adorable) children seemed socially mature and kind to each other. Girls living their dream, however absurd it may seem from the outside. No apparent hang-ups or grudges. No sex or alcohol before marriage, no drugs, and teenage girls never allowed to be with a boy alone before marriage. Young men who claim to take family and financial responsibilities very seriously. If you compare and contrast with some non-Gypsies they come out rather well. Well, how controversial.

In Gypsies Stop tHere, Lena is a young Romany Gypsy wife and mother of two little boys, who is cast out from her community. As you can see, in the context of this programme showing the powerful sense of belonging that is the linchpin of Gypsy and Traveller culture, this is the worst thing that can happen to a Gypsy. Also in No Gypsies Served, Dunstan, a half-Gypsy or didakoi, left his family at the age of 16 and you can see some of the consequences. It is unlikely to happen, but is a ‘what if’ scenario.

The programme did help to demonstrate why their culture persists; the difficulties of breaking away, or their lack of any wish to do so, stood out.

I am looking forward to the next episode and would love to hear your views – especially if you are a Gypsy or Traveller.


  1. The wedding did seem over the top but I think that about any wedding. A day of silly dresses and expensive cakes.

  2. Steve, your comment made me smile, I agree! My wedding was simple and beautiful, everything was hand-made by friends and family and the only thing that cost money was hiring the registry office. And I'm Romany.

    Miriam: I'm glad someone sees the positives in our culture. One of the main things I disliked about the programme was that it focused heavily on Irish Travellers and not enough on Romany people. Now, there's nothing wrong with giving an insight into Travellers' culture regardless of whether they're Gypsies by race, but I think it would have been better named "My Big Fat Traveller Wedding." However, considering that most people don't know that 'Gypsy' refers to a race rather than a lifestyle, not much would have been achieved by this, probably.

    A lot of the weddings were very, very OTT. It's true that in travelling communities, weddings are a big deal. However, a lot of my own travelling friends would find the dresses on the programme quite hideous and would prefer something more... what's the word?... understated? Having said that, I think a wedding is a girl's big day and she should be allowed to dress however the hell she likes.

    I'd like it if there were an introduction to the 'My Big Fat Gypsy...' series that explained the different types of Traveller; then perhaps they could go on to look at a different travelling community with each programme, thus highlighting the differences as well as the similarities.

    Anyway, great piece as always. Have a good weekend :)

  3. i haven't seen the programme, we don't have a tv, but i read about it and think it's just another of those sensational "documentaries" which fool noone who really knows the subject. WHat a shame to exploit the people in it, on the other hand, good for them if they've fooled the prog makers!
    I have apparently gypsy genes at the great-great-grandma level so have always respected the real romanies.Pity this prog is using the Irish travellers who are a different group entirely.
    Clare (of Hodge Publishing)