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Dublin: 16 °C Thursday 31 July, 2014

Channel 4′s Big Fat Gypsy Weddings series is ‘a work of fiction’

The culture represented in the popular show is “unrecognisable” to most Gypsies and Travellers – which, incidentally, are two separate ethnic groups, writes Pip Mckenzie-Borev.

File photo of a caravan park
File photo of a caravan park
Image: Chris Radburn/PA Wire/Press Association Images

Blogger Pip Mckenzie-Borev, who identifies himself as a 17-year-old Roma Gypsy, has written an open letter to Channel 4 in response to the popular series, Big Fat Gypsy Weddings. He says the culture represented in the show is “unrecognisable” to most Gypsies and Travellers, and that the programme glosses over the extreme disadvantage experienced by travelling communities.

Channel 4′s Commissioning Editor for Factual Entertainment, Nick Hornby, has since responded to Pip’s letter: read his reply here.

DEAR CHANNEL 4,

I am writing to you with the hope that you will stop ruining my life. While your obsession with my ethnicity is flattering, it has become somewhat apparent to me that you might have gotten the wrong end of the stick. This is sort of awkward for me, because I don’t want to be the one to break it to you, but your documentary, ‘Big Fat Gypsy Weddings’, is unfortunately a work of fiction. There is no need to be embarrassed, it can happen to the best of us, and thus I hope my letter will help you establish the facts – after all I’m sure you are passionate about fighting discrimination against ethnic minorities. Don’t be modest now, we know you are… right?

It surprised me to discover that 99 per cent of Britain’s Gypsy and Traveller population are Irish. Correct me if I’m wrong, as I am sure you have done lots and lots of research on this topic, but just 10 per cent of the Gypsy and Traveller population are actually Irish Travellers. The majority, like myself, are in fact Romany, yet your ‘documentary’ seems to ignore our existence. While I have nothing but respect for the Irish Traveller community, you seem to be unaware that we are two distinct ethnic groups and thus there are many differences between our cultures. While Irish Travellers originate from Ireland, we can trace our routes back to India, so it was hardly surprising that I was somewhat confused when you use the word Gypsy in the title of your ‘documentary’ about Irish Travellers. I was even more confused when your ‘documentary’ about Irish Travellers seemed to feature an alien culture that even most Irish Traveller’s didn’t recognise.

State education fails to adapt to anything but mainstream culture

You correctly identified that many Gypsy and Traveller children leave school at a young age, however you failed to mention that this is not because we are all born to terrible parents, but because our communities suffer from great social exclusion. State education fails to adapt to anything but mainstream culture, thus we have to contend with a curriculum that is totally irrelevant to our way of life. Moreover, both teachers and students seem ignorant of our cultures, thus we are labelled as troublemakers and bullied for being different. The myths that you have been spreading have not helped matters. Indeed, I was subjected to physical attacks during your last series of your ‘documentary’ which ultimately led to my expulsion from school (long story), whilst my 12 year old cousin was beat up on her way home from school by a gang of girls who were calling her a prostitute.

As you can see, there are many reasons as to why Gypsy and Traveller children are failing to attend school, but you seem to have forgotten to feature those of us that do stay in education. Take myself, for example, I’m currently at college studying a range of subjects such as History and Sociology. Moreover, my sister trained to be a hairdresser, my aunty went to university and is now a social worker and some of my cousins completed apprenticeships, thus clearly dropping out of education is not a prerequisite of living in a trailer.

‘An unhealthy obsession with little girls’

Your ‘documentary’ has an unhealthy obsession with little girls. While I understand that the outfits worn by some of your younger stars could be considered a little risqué, I see only little girls having fun and dressing up for a special occasion. Your ‘documentary’ appears to be suggesting that we are inappropriately sexualising our children, yet the only people who are sexualising our children are the viewers who watch them and think they are sexy. In reality, our little girls can mostly be found in velour tracksuits and handmade frilly dresses, so I would suggest you should stop filming little girls dancing if you are finding that this is turning on your viewers.

After watching the last series of your ‘documentary’ it finally hit me why I was so unlucky in love. I would have been married by now, if only I had known that the key to a women’s heart was to sexually assault her using a gypsy courting ritual called ‘grabbing’. I asked my brother if he had grabbed his wife, but it turned out he had just asked her out on a date instead. It appears that in reality, no one actually knows what grabbing is – in fact Gypsy and Traveller men actually have a lot of respect for their women after all.

Speaking of love, I’ve been to many Gypsy and Traveller weddings, but I’m yet to attend a wedding where the bride’s dress weighs more than my whole family. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen some huge dresses but there is something you need to know: Thelma Madine is lying to you, she’s not our dressmaker of choice. In fact, I’m kind of embarrassed for her because no one actually knows who she is and everything she says about us is actually untrue. Basically, you’ve been conned, so I suggest you find a new spokesperson for the Gypsy and Traveller communities, such as an actual Gypsy or Traveller like my Baba (grandma), she makes some right nice clothes you know.

People are watching your ‘documentary’ purely to laugh at us

It’s hardly surprising that people are watching your ‘documentary’ purely to laugh at us, because even I laugh at the monstrosities that Thelma Madine creates. It is a shame that you haven’t featured any Gypsy or Traveller designers because the clothing that we were actually more traditionally known for before your ‘documentary’, is actually far more interesting than amusing. Last year, Leeds University Union thought it would be okay to laugh at the Gypsy and Traveller communities by hosting a Big Fat Gypsy Wedding fancy dress party. While the union holds events throughout the year to celebrate other ethnic minorities, your ‘documentary’ encouraged them to incite ethnic hatred. You’ll be pleased to know that due to complaints from yours truly and friends, the event was shelved.

Europe’s largest and most deprived ethnic minority

You seem to have misunderstood what a documentary about Gypsies should entail. Gypsies (as in Romany Gypsies that are completely different to Irish Travellers, that are like totally not Irish Travellers at all, get it?) are Europe’s largest and most deprived ethnic minority. The majority of Romani people have never been to Rathkeale, let alone own houses there. In fact, most live in great poverty and I suggest you read my previous blogs. We suffer from discrimination on a daily basis and our human rights have historically been violated, yet you deem it acceptable to broadcast a misleading ‘documentary’ that has been made not to raise awareness of our plight but for entertainment. We are not a joke, we are human beings and your work of fiction is only strengthening stereotypes and ignorance.

Unlike those who star in your ‘documentary’ I am not after five minutes of fame, but what I am asking for is for you to put humans above ratings. You can’t ignore us forever.

Yours sincerely,

Pip

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