Gypsy weddings are back, bigger and fatter! New series digs even deeper into the lives of Britain’s travellers
Big Fat Gypsy Weddings was the TV sensation of 2011, with ratings almost as eye-popping as the bridal gowns worn on the Channel 4 show.
Seven and a half million viewers tuned in to see 17-year-old Sam take a trip up the aisle in a 14-stone dress that lit up in the dark and was adorned with moving diamant butterflies.
Even more of us, 8.8 million, were watching when Irish traveller and former bare-knuckle fighter Paddy Doherty made his first appearance two weeks later; within seven months he had won Celebrity Big Brother.
Hot reception: The crew have suffered only minor injuries despite filming in the sometimes hostile traveller community. 'There have been two dog bites and a bit of verbal abuse at drunken weddings,' says Jes Wilkins. 'But that's it.'
The makers of Gypsy Weddings promise bags more bling in the new six-part series, which once again shines a light on the traveller community in Britain and the Republic of Ireland.
‘Although it isn’t just about celebration this time,’ says executive producer Jes Wilkins. ‘Yes, there are weddings, First Holy Communions, a Sweet Sixteen party and a school prom, but we also focus on other aspects of their lives. So there’s illegal horse-racing and a programme devoted to the travellers’ children and their education.’
The first show examines beauty and the way young gypsy women compete to be the most attractive.
Sam and Patrick wed in series one and the couple now have a baby
Thelma is frequently on hand to provide extravagant gowns
Nine-year-old Nangirl has a spray-tan and nail extensions ahead of her First Holy Communion; 16-year-old Sammy-Jo wriggles her way into a tight dress and spends hours on a sunbed to get the perfect tan to win a beauty contest.
‘If I get cancer, I get cancer,’ she
says. There’s also a wedding, of course – for 21-year-old Delores in
Rathkeale, County Limerick in the Irish Republic – and she doesn’t let
us down with the dresses. Yes, dresses, because Delores has commissioned
two from the travellers’ favourite designer, Thelma Madine – an exotic
palm tree affair for her hen night and a ‘cat’ dress for the big day.
‘Everyone else has stars and flowers, I wanted to be different and be remembered,’ she says.
Celebrity Big Brother winner 2011, the 52-year-father of five also made a reality show with Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow’s wife Sally, called When Paddy Met Sally.
London-based teenager who swapped her life with her Irish family for a gypsy camp when she married Swanley in series one. We now see how they’re coping with children.
The travellers’ favourite dressmaker is a glamorous, Manchester-based mother-of-four who’s frequently on hand in the new series to provide those extravagant gowns – whatever the special occasion.
SAM AND PATRICK
Sam’s what travellers call a ‘gorger girl’ – a woman from the settled community who marries a gypsy. She and Patrick, who at 21 is three years older than Sam, wed in series one and the couple now have a baby.
Subjects of later programmes include the codes of behaviour that exist within the communities, and the gypsies’ conflict with the authorities. Fans of Paddy Doherty won’t be disappointed either, as he also returns – ‘although we won’t be featuring footage of him in the Big Brother house,’ says Jes Wilkins.
‘We focus on the day-to-day lives of people from the traveller community, not how famous they might have become as a result of the programme. That was the key to the success of the first series – it shone a light on the traveller community, which people haven’t seen before.’
Jes admits even he wasn’t expecting the show to appeal quite so much to the viewing public.
‘I was surprised at just how successful the first series was – and I wasn’t alone. There was a 24-hour delay in getting the ratings for the first episode because the compilers couldn’t quite believe how many people had tuned in to watch a Channel 4 documentary. When it came up as seven million, they had to check it again.’
Jes says filming the new series was not as much of a challenge as series one.
‘It’s been difficult throughout the three years we’ve been filming because we’re focusing on a community that, traditionally, does not engage with outsiders and the media. But there are a lot of gypsies who like the show, and that made it easier to get the access we needed for series two.’
Not everyone likes the show, though. Some in the travelling community believe it reinforces stereotypes. ‘Small pockets of people complained very loudly,’ says Jes.
‘It started some interesting debate though, and I’m sure it will again. We make no judgement. We just film what’s in front of us and neither condone nor condemn what we see.’
Big Fat Gypsy Weddings, Tuesday, Channel 4, 9pm.