Orpington Travellers abused after Big Fat Gypsy Wedding
Having suffered centuries of abuse, the borough's Traveller community is experiencing a venomous new backlash after a programme about Gypsy weddings became cult viewing.
Channel 4’s Big Fat Gyspy Wedding, which mainly focuses on a wealthy Irish contingent, shows extravagant ceremonies, skimpily-clad teenagers and so-called courting rituals in which young Traveller girls are violently attacked - a technique known as ‘grabbing’.
The five-part show, which peaked at 7.5 million viewers and beat the Brit Awards by two million, claims it gained access to the notoriously private Gypsy community, exposing how Traveller children stop schooling aged 12 and the secrecy around gaining and spending money.
But Bromley’s settled Gypsy population, amongst the largest in the UK, say the ‘cringe-worthy’ show is inaccurate and has led to bullying, their homes being vandalised and Facebook hate-groups.
One Gypsy mother from Orpington, said: “I cringed. The grabbing thing has caused a big problem for my kids at school. They said it’s a ritual, it’s not. I had never heard of it.
“The programme made a big thing about money. It’s embarrassing to talk about money in any walk of life- nobody likes a bragger. It implies we’re dishonest. Travellers love a bargain it doesn’t cost much to look fresh. Caravans depreciate quickly.
“I have been to big weddings and small weddings- they are not all like that. It’s a joke.
“Not all Travellers take their kids out of school. If they do, they do it properly. We get tutors for them. The programme has affected parents very badly.” Another 35-year-old Gypsy from Orpington, said: “It’s caused bullying for kids. The girls are being targeted by boys. I had never heard of grabbing until the programme. We don’t do it- it’s not right, the girls are attacked.
“I don’t work but my sisters do - they have to keep the fact they are Gypsies a secret because they have good jobs. People have set hate groups up on Facebook.”
Bromley has about 1,500 Gypsy and Traveller families – mainly living in houses around the Orpington and Cray areas.
There are two sites- Star Lane in Orpington which has 22 plots and Old Maidstone Road, of the A20, with 17 plots.
Last summer, Travellers set up in Kings Hall Road, Beckenham for around 10 weeks. They left piles of rubbish when they were evicted.
Beckenham MP Bob Stewart stayed with a Traveller group for four days in Essex as part of a Channel 5 series The Negotiator in 2005.
Last week, he put a written question to Parliament asking for trespassing laws to be tightened up.
He said: “I have a little bit of sympathy for them but not when they break the law.
I have to ask myself, where do they get their money from? That question was never satisfactorily answered for me.
“They are illegal squatters and they need to be got rid of. There are some good Gyspies but they have to blend in with the community better.
“The law in regards to Travellers moves at the speed of a striking slug.
“They move onto Green Belt land where nobody else is allowed to live and they leave a frightful mess.”
Bromley Gypsy Traveller Project spokesperson James Belsham-Revell, said prejudice is rife.
He said: “I know young women who work in shops and have to keep their background a secret. They listen to other members of staff talking about Gypsies and say nothing. If they find out there’s a possibility they’ll lose their jobs.”
Speaking about Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, he said: “All it seems to have done is spread a lot of nastiness.
“One house in St Mary Cray has had ‘pikeys get out’ graffiti sprayed on it- we haven’t seen that for ages.
“There’s so much that they could have done like show how much discrimination there is but they focused on one aspect which was sad.”
The Times contacted Channel 4 but a spokesman was unavailable for comment.