Sophie Heawood: Traveller TV - one part cringe, one part inspiration

Related Topics

We are in the middle of a craze for gypsies. My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding is about to return for another series, having apparently given Channel 4 its highest viewing figures in years. Then there's Gypsy Blood, Channel 4's documentary last month about the bare-knuckle fighting culture. Paddy Doherty, a boxer, went on to win Celebrity Big Brother and get a spin-off programme of his own, shacking up with Sally Bercow, wife of the Speaker of the House of Commons. Meanwhile, the supermodel Kate Moss says she loves the gypsy weddings so much that they inspired her own. Then, in the news, we've seen the drawn-out evictions at the traveller site at Dale Farm, near Basildon. There are question marks over a traveller site near the Olympic area in east London. Disturbing reports are coming from Hungary of militias rounding up members of the Roma community.

Travellers are not new, but this sudden wave of interest in them is. In the British media, they have become a meme. Hence, yet another series showing us weddings where 17-year-olds wear dresses that weigh twice as much as they do, with miles of fabric ruched into a fairytale train that they can barely get inside their fairytale carriage. Weddings where nobody is actually invited, everybody just turns up, with word going round at the last minute where the reception will be held. Venues tend to cancel if they get wind of the booked wedding being a gypsy one, so the guests hang around in their cars waiting for the tip-off, like glowstick ravers waiting for directions to the right field.

I finally gave in to the big fat show, having presumed, from its showy title, that I would be watching it through my fingers, uncomfortable with the programme-making itself, cringing as we sat and passed judgement on a marginalised culture. And if all you've seen this time around are the adverts that say, somewhat unbelievably, "Bigger. Fatter. Gypsier", then you're probably deeply uncomfortable already.

But I didn't find it icky in the end. For every bit that challenges you – the girls who have left school and got engaged by the age of 15, planning a marriage they must stay in for the rest of their lives – you then see how close they are to their kids, how much support they get in raising children by living on a site, and how little chance there is to be lonely.

Little chance to be lonely is at the other end of the cultural wedge that leaves you little chance to be gay, to go to university, to live away from all violence. "We don't take each other to court. We don't sue each other," said one man in Gypsy Blood. "We go and fight." Ultimately, you see so many nuances and traditions and traps that the judgement has to end. We're not watching it to make a decision – we simply want to know what's going on inside these communities that are so close to us geographically, and yet, socially, so closed.

Is it a guilty pleasure? I don't think so. We're just dying to know how each other live – it's anthropology.

Next up, I'd like to see a similar show about Hasidic Jews in Britain. Europe's biggest community of such live just down the road from me in north-east London, and I know next to nothing about them. There was a great BBC documentary last year, (which, as it happens, also showed a lot of drunken gaiety at weddings) but I'd love to see a whole series.

Getting a closed culture to open up is the greatest thing that television can ever do.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Residents of the Gravesham constituency are 10 times closer to what Peter Hain scorns as the “Westminster elite” than are those of Linlithgow and East Falkirk  

Will no one stop the march of localism?

Jonathan Meades
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam