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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Revealed: The bizarre secrets of courtship in My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding

By Daily Mail Reporter

Grabbing: Teenage wedding guest Cheyenne, 15, tries to escape the attentions of a gypsy boy who is trying to kiss her outside the hotel reception in last night's episode of My Big Fat Gypsy Weddings

As the new series of My Big Fat Gypsy Weddings kicked off last night, viewers might have been captivated by the elaborate dresses worn by teenage brides.

But one of the most shocking elements of the first episode of the Channel 4 documentary was the courting rituals between the younger members of the community.

In contrast to their scantily-clad outfits, young gypsy women have very strong morals and aren't allowed to go on dates with men until they're married.

So until they are engaged, teenage traveller girls are subjected to the 'grabbing' courtship ritual, which sees boys angling for a kiss.

Strict rules stipulate girls aren't allowed to approach boys, so it's up to the males, aka the 'grabbers', to tempt the girl away from her group of friends and try to get a kiss off her, even sometimes going as far as twisting her arm.

Explaining the ritual, 15-year-old traveller Cheyenne explains: 'It means they like a girl and want to get their number.'

At the climax of one young traveller couple Josie and Swanley's wedding a few weeks later, Cheyenne is seen trying to escape the attentions of one grabber, who has pinned her up against the wall outside the reception.

'Get off me': Cheyenne conceded the ritual 'is not nice at all, but you just got to live with it'

Talking to camera after managing to escape, the 15-year-old said: 'He got hold of me and pushed me up the road.'

When asked if it was violent, she said: 'It wasn't violent, I've had much worst than that... It's not nice at all, but you just got to live with it.'

After the first episode was broadcast, outraged viewers took to internet message boards to express their disdain for the controversial courtship method.

'Peach45' wrote on's forum: 'It's unbelievable, surely the parents want more for their daughters than to be treated like this?'

Another user 'bob up and down' wrote: 'Where's the chaperone in the car park? Hurting people until they agree for you to kiss them is disgusting.'

Love at first sight: Josie, 17, and Swanley on their wedding day in July. They found each other on the internet and only met for the first time in February last year

Princess moment: Josie, who left school at 11, has been planning her wedding day since she was a little girl

Grabbing aside, the main focus of the first episode was the wedding of Josie, 17, and Swanley, 19, who she married in July, just five months after they first met.

Despite stereotypes, Josie is one of many gypsy families who live in a house rather than a caravan, but moves into a mobile home following her nuptials.

In the run up to the wedding, the couple aren't allowed to be together without a chaperone, with Josie explaining gypsy girls can never be alone with a gypsy boy because it would ruin their reputation.

She said: 'You got to be clean and decent in everyone's eyes.'

Here come the girls: Josie, her friends and relatives go all out for her sober hen night in Lanzarote

Juxtaposition: Despite the gypsy girls' revealing outfits, they remain chaste until their weddings and aren't allowed to socialise with the opposite sex alone

Dressmaker Thelma Madine admits the juxtaposition of the gypsy girls' revealing clothing and their morals takes some getting used to.

She said: 'When I first seen them, it was like "My God…" They did look like prostitutes - that’s how you would describe them… you wouldn’t let your daughter walk around like that... But when you get to know them, their morals are so high, you would say they are definitely stuck in a time warp.'

Josie, who speaks with a heavy Irish accent, despite having only visited Ireland once, dropped out of school aged 11, claiming that high school is 'not the place for a gypsy girl'.

Like most gypsy women, she expects her husband to work and provide for them, while she fulfills the traditional role of housewife.

Teenage bride: Josie struggles to walk in her huge wedding dress, which weighs five stone

'Highlighter pink': The bridesmaids are dressed in Spanish-style fuchsia dresses
As a wife, they are expected to cook, clean and raise children, and leave the careers up to the men.

And although she dresses in another skimpy outfit in Lanzarote for her hen night, as a young unmarried woman, Josie isn't allowed to drink, but manages to have a fun night out while sober.

When asked why he thinks Josie will make a good wife, Swanley replies: 'She's a good cook, she cleans up... the main thing is I get on with her well.'

And it appears Josie and her friends are content to live in what they repeatedly describe as 'a man's world', adding, 'We wouldn't have it any other way'.

What's so funny? The teenage bride and groom giggle through their vows

I better carry you down the aisle: After seeing his bride struggling up to the altar, Swanley wisely decides to carry her after they tie the knot

When the couple finally do make it up the aisle, Josie wears a huge five stone dress, with a thigh-length split at the front, giving the congregation a view of her tanned legs and garter.

Describing her dress ahead of her big day, Josie enthused: 'Every girl wants their dress to be the best because you're only going to wear it that one day.

'You want to say my dress is like this and my dress is like that, because you wait since you were a baby just to wear it, to feel like a princess.'

Helping hand: Josie finds her dress so large, she can't sit down at the top table at the reception

Food fight: The couple started throwing cake at each other moments after cutting their wedding cake

Although she arrives at her wedding late due to car problems, the couple's ceremony goes without a hitch.

But in a clear sign of their young age, the couple celebrate their nuptials by having a food fight immediately after cutting their wedding cake.

And from a very early age, girls are encouraged to aspire to marriage. In another gypsy rite of passage we see eight-year-old Margarita from Stroud preparing for her first holy communion.

We see her mother painting her lips with gloss, before she struggles to the church in a gown covered in 5,000 crystals - that weighs twice her own bodyweight. The occasion is seen as a dress rehearsal for a girl's wedding day.

Rite-of-passage: Margarita's mother prepares her for her first holy communion, which is considered a dress rehearsal for a girl's wedding

Dress rehearsal: Margarita struggles with her vast pink gown, which weighs twice her own body weight

The journey to the church is one of the most fun parts for young Margarita, who shares a limousine with her siblings and friends while sipping 'fake' champagne and no adults around to spoil their fun.

However, when she arrives at church, it soon becomes apparent she is sharing the communion with her non-gypsy schoolfriends, who are bemused by her over-the-top dress - inspired by Lisa Dowell's wedding dress in Eigthies movie Coming To America.

Father Bill Watson, the priest who presides over Margarita's communion, said: 'It was quite a surprise but we had a traveller wedding last year so I'm getting used to it. It doesn't phase me at all.'

The next episode of My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding is screened on Channel 4 on Tuesday 25th January at 9pm.



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