As the creator of many an outlandish gown in Big Fat Gypsy Weddings, dressmaker Thelma Madine is used rising to a challenge. This week, a new Channel 4 show, Thelma’s Gypsy Girls, sees her take on her toughest assignment to date by training up 10 young travellers to be seamstresses at her Liverpool-based company. We caught up with her to find out more... Why did you want to do the show? “Because travellers have helped to put me where I am today. These girls are excited when they come in for their wedding dresses, but a couple of years later they are deflated. I wanted to show them there is choice, that you can have a career.” Has it been daunting because you are also putting a lot of money into expanding your business? “I’ve been bankrupt before and lost everything and even some of our traveller customers have warned me the girls would ruin my business, so it is frightening. I have had sleepless nights.” Did the girls struggle to adjust to the working world? “Yes, some left school at 11, so how can I teach them to sew A to B when they don’t recognise A and B? School also shows you how to act around other people and gives you rules to abide by, but these girls think they can do what they want, demand attention all the time and act very young. I have been sterner than Alan Sugar with them and my language has been bluer.” Do you want the series to change opinions both in the traveller community and outside of it? “Yes, because it’s sad that we are in the 21st century and the girls have been kept down. We’re trying to change perspectives to show it is just about them gaining self-respect. I also hope the series will make people understand travellers a bit more because I have worked with them for years, but this has opened even my eyes.” Was the process rewarding in the end? “Definitely. Halfway through they started getting used to that wage slip and they would plan what to do with it and save it up; they loved the independence of their own money. One said she couldn’t go back to cleaning the caravan because she felt like a dosser. They even wanted to come in at evenings and on Saturdays.” How has Big Fat Gypsy Weddings impacted on your life? “I have got a flourishing business and we have got an order book that is full all the time – we even get orders from Australia and the USA. I get recognised all the time and people are very polite, but I don’t go out that much! I can’t see myself on something like Celebrity Big Brother like Paddy Doherty. He had nothing to lose, but I have a business to lose. Why do you think the series has been so popular? “It is because it is such a secret community. I knew it would captivate everybody because having worked with travellers for years I have mentioned things that have happened with clients to other people and they are just gobsmacked.” Big Fat Gypsy Weddings begins on Sunday 8 July on Channel 4 at 9pm
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Patrick McLennan is a London-based journalist and documentary maker who has worked as a writer, sub-editor, digital editor and TV producer in the UK and New Zealand. His CV includes spells as a news producer at the BBC and TVNZ, as well as web editor for Time Inc UK. He has produced TV news and entertainment features on personalities as diverse as Nick Cave, Tom Hardy, Clive James, Jodie Marsh and Kevin Bacon and he co-produced and directed The Ponds, which has screened in UK cinemas, BBC Four and is currently available on Netflix.
An entertainment writer with a diverse taste in TV and film, he lists Seinfeld, The Sopranos, The Chase, The Thick of It and Detectorists among his favourite shows, but steers well clear of most sci-fi.