Bexley Travellers react to Channel 4 show Big Fat Gypsy Wedding
WheN Romany Rose Redworth, whose ancestry is a direct line to the famous Gypsy Rose Lee, saw cult TV series Big Fat Gypsy Wedding she felt her race had been dealt a disservice.
In a rare interview with this newspaper she revealed how the programme missed a huge opportunity to reveal what is really behind her culture.
The series, which mainly focuses on wealthy Irish Travellers, shows flamboyant ceremonies, skimpily-clad teens and so-called courting rituals in which young Traveller girls are violently attacked in a technique known as ‘grabbing’.
The five-part show, which peaked at 7.5 million viewers and beat Britain’s top music award show, the Brit Awards, by two million, claims it gained access to the notoriously private Gypsy community.
However Rose, related to Queen of the Gypsies Rosie Lee famed for reading the fortune of King George V, believes the programme squandered the chance to reveal how Travellers have been driven into the shadows because of discrimination and to illustrate the different groups within the race.
Rose’s great, great, great-grandmother Rose Lee married a wealthy horse-trader who sold animals to royalty and Mrs Redworth’s grandmother Uraina Boswell, known as Rainy Lee, met the Queen when Belvedere Marshes flooded in 1953.
She says attitudes have changed and laws have made it difficult for Travellers. Within just two generations her family, she says, has shifted from ‘romantic but hard’ life, crossing the country in a horse-drawn wagon to living in a house in Belvedere.
Although she is fiercely proud of her culture, she now believes Gypsies are a ‘dying race’ forced to the edge of society. She refuses to declare her children’s race at school, fearing discrimination.
She said: “We will become stories and photos - history. Hardly anybody can travel anymore. People are more settled and mixing with non Gypsies.
“There are Romanies amongst us - that’s why you see big turnouts at weddings and funerals. However, they won’t tell their employer, they think they are thieving trouble-makers. I don’t declare my children as Gypsies because of discrimination.
“Since the show my daughter has had sarcastic remarks at school and her close friends were asking lots of questions. We found it embarrassing.”
She has never lived in a caravan but her mother spent her childhood in a wagon until she married a ‘Gorger’- a non Gypsy and they moved into a house.
She said: “My parent’s generation would move around farms in Kent, picking hops and fruit. That’s how my mum met my dad. At night, the fire was the main hub.
“They would sit around talking, drinking tea or singing. The men might be carving pegs to sell and the women making bunches of daffodils.
“It does seem like a romantic life but it was hard. My mum said when she was a child it was so icy cold that the sheets would be frozen to the wooden slats of the wagon.”
Asked how she feels about the past life disappearing, she added: “It doesn’t make me sad because it could never continue. We will still have our Gypsy values and culture. It is bred into you.”
The borough’s Romany community believe the programme, which depicts huge flamboyant weddings with bridal dresses so large the women can barely walk, presented those ceremonies as the norm for all Gypsies.
Romany Joanne Lee-Wharton, 38, from Belvedere, did not tell anyone when she got married on a beach in Sri Lanka as she wanted to keep the service as small as possible.
She said: “The programme is embarrassing. It presented those cases as the norm in the Gypsy community when it wasn’t – it was exaggerated.
My wedding wasn’t like that. It made us look foolish. I feel like there should be another programme to offer a more balanced view of what it is like to be in the Gypsy community.”
A spokesperson for Channel 4 said: “The series features a mix of Irish Travellers and Romany Gypsies and the programme makes a clear distinction between these groups.
“The series is an observational documentary and made predominantly from the perspective of Gypsies and Travellers talking about their own experiences.
“We intentionally avoided many commonly held stereotypes and attempted to provide a balanced view.”