My Big Fat Gypsy Christmas

So by now you may have guessed I’m a HUGE fan of wedding TV shows (my obsessive Don’t Tell the Bride reviews are probably a testament to that) so when Wednesday night rolled around with Don’t Tell the Bride on BBC3 and My Big Fat Gypsy Christmas on Channel 4, can you imagine my dilemma?

Eventually it seemed the majority of you lovely folk (on Twitter anyway) were glued to the glitz and, erm, glamour *cough* of My Big Fat Gypsy Christmas so that won out. For the first time on Under the Vintage Veil, it’s my debut review of the Big Fat Gypsy Wedding series.

For those of you who’ve been living under a rock the last couple of years, the premise of this show is that it gives an “insight” into the lives of young traveller girls getting married, having their holy communions and starting a family (not in that order!). I’m not sure how you could have possibly missed it but in the gypsy community (according to the documentary) they pretty much have one wedding dressmaker called Thelma who makes dresses that look like this:

Photo: Channel 4

The dresses are usually so big (they like to outdo each other, most of the brides are teenagers aged 16+) that they’re hugely painful to wear and the bride can barely move or breathe. Think a sort of inexplicable cartoon Jordan… on crack… Have a look at some more pictures on Wed in London’s lovely blog!

For the Christmas special, we’re off to traveller gathering ground, Rathkeale, where Thelma is preparing dresses for wedding season. Thelma arrives to help 17 year old Lavinia get ready, with less than an hour before the wedding. There’s some drama as her crown is missing. It arrives and I sort of wish it had stayed missing – it looks more like a cage for her head than a crown. Once the crown is located, poor Lavinia is unceremoniously stuffed into a Jordan-esque carriage. I say stuffed because she physically has to be bundled in with her massive dress.

Finally she makes it to the church on time… but where’s the groom? He’s still at the pub. What a charmer. Apparently it’s a traveller tradition. Do I want to believe him? Now bear in mind poor Lavinia only has an inch of fake tan and make up to keep her warm and is wearing a dress about a zillion times her body weight. She has to stand outside in the freezing cold until her gentleman friend decides to leave the pub.

It only takes him an hour!! He stumbles in clearly a bit pissed and wearing a white suit (is that legal?? I mean the being pissed bit, not the suit! Surely you have to be of sound mind to enter into a binding legal contract that lasts a lifetime??) With the groom ready to go (sort of) dad Clifford can now escort his daughter down the aisle… except he can’t get in the church! Whoops!

We take a little break from Lavinia’s wedding and go to visit Irish traveller Josie and English traveller Swanley in Surrey, who we saw married in an earlier episode. 17 year old Josie is now five months pregnant. Josie is excited for the future because she can’t wait to have a family. Swanley says he can’t wait to divorce her. You old romantic, Swanley! Stop, you’re showing all of our boyfriends / fiances/ husbands up!

Swanley seems to have one mode: grumpy. I suddenly feel very very sorry for Josie – divorce is seriously frowned upon in the traveller community and poor Josie is stuck with this guy.

Back at Lavinia’s wedding, Thelma reveals that Lavinia is wearing two nappies under her dress… erm, what for? Please say it’s because the dress is painful and NOT because she can’t go to the loo in the dress…

The wedding party then goes to the graveyard to pay their respects to the dead, which is a traveller tradition. First of all, I don’t know if this is disrespectful to say but I’m really fascinated by the graves. They have photos somehow carved into the actual grave. I’ve never seen that before. Anyway, all thoughts of whether *I’m* disrespectful or not go out the window when the groomsmen start giving the groom advice about his wedding night. This is quite surreal, they’re talking about him “letting off his cannon” in the middle of a graveyard… I feel a bit grimey just watching this!

Back with Josie and Swanley, they’re off to find out the sex of their baby. Swanley says he’s “not too fussed” and sadly doesn’t seem to have cheered up… The documentary dude asks Swanley if he’s emotional: “You don’t ask questions like that,” he responds, “I’m a geezer.” Damn straight Swanley – none of that emotion crap, it’s just a tiny human being you created. Pass me a Stella ug ug.

Josie goes baby clothes shopping and Swanley runs arguing that shopping should be left to the women. A real modern man, this one. Meanwhile Josie is obviously prepared for motherhood. When the documentary dude points out that it’s not going to be a toy anymore, Josie argues the baby is a toy to her and she’s going to dress it up so much it won’t be able to sleep. Let’s see her confronted a nappy (other than on her wedding day) and see if she still thinks it’s a toy!

Meanwhile at the wedding reception, Thelma’s observing the girls on the dancefloor. I’m a big fan of letting people wear what they want and don’t think people should be judged for revealing a lot of skin – but some of these kids are about 4 and in tiny belly tops and short shorts… surely some parenting should come into play here. Aren’t they cold???

No rest for the wicked though, Thelma has another wedding to prepare in 12 hours. Somewhere in between though, 9 year old Jacinta is all dolled up for her holy communion. Dressed in a mini version of one of the wedding gowns and choking on about a hundred gallons of hairspray, Jacinta gives the camera a matter of fact account of the necessity of a limo on such occasions. I’m not going to say any more because it’s not nice to make fun of children – it’s not her fault.

In Hampshire, we visit married Irish traveller Martina who’s obsessed with dolling up her little girl, Princess (really) for Christmas day. Apparently it’s essential that her child is the best dressed. Biting my tongue. Seriously biting my tongue. Oh I can’t do it, what kind of a value is that to teach to a little girl??? Argh!

Anyway, I really don’t think this is a deliberately chauvenistic culture (at least not as far as the women are aware) I think it’s genuinely all they know and that’s what life is about in this particular part of the travelling community. I just think it’s sad but hey, I don’t live that life so I can’t really judge.

Back to the holy communion-mobile and I don’t want to say anything mean about the kids so I’m going to wait till the wedding part of the show to carry on. Lalala…

We’re now back with Big Brother contestant (did he win?? It was on Channel 5 so I didn’t watch it… and not because I don’t get Channel 5…) Paddy. This is going to sound awful but I genuinely can’t understand most of what’s being said but the commentator has inormed me he’s off to buy a santa outfit or something.

Back in Hampshire, Martina is putting Princess to bed. She shows her the garish Christmas decorations out of the window. Princess starts crying. I quite agree, Princess.

This show jumps between characters a lot, I’m not sure I can keep up in my old age. Apparently we’re back with Paddy now and they’re still arguing about him wearing a Santa suit… he eventually concedes and puts on the hat… just the hat though… and goes around handing out sweets to bewildered looking youths in the street…

Ahhh we’re back to an actual wedding day! 18 year old bride Charlene is wearing Thelma’s biggest dress of the year. They’re trying to stuff her into the limo. When you can’t fit into a LIMO on your wedding day, perhaps you should reconsider the size of your dress.

The whole size thing is because in the gypsy community, bigger is better. It’s all a contest as to who can have the biggest outfit on the day. Charlene arrives at the church and… you guessed it… the groom’s nowhere to be found… he’s down the pub! Another ride around the block then.

Charlene excuses his behaviour saying “if he wasn’t drunk, he wouldn’t go up the aisle.” Erm, again, I’m going to call into question the legality of getting drunk before your wedding… poor Charlene has to drive around the block again looking like a heavily stuffed toilet roll in the back seat of the limo.

Finally the groom arrives and Charlene has to figure out how to get out of the limo. Usually her bridesmaids would help with her dress, but they’re too busy tripping over their own imitation marshmallow creations…

Cut to Paddy and his wife eating a sad lonely lunch together, everyone wishing us merry Christmas and the show is over. I wish a little more of it had been about weddings and that they’d stuck with the characters for more than two minutes at a time, but this is probably only the sort of detail you notice if you’re doing a review…

What did you think of the Big Fat Gypsy Christmas this time around? Leave some comments and let’s get the debate going!

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