While the splendour of Ladies Day has been traditionally seen as the preserve of the British aristocracy, across the racetrack, on the other side of the fence, thousands of Travellers and Gypsies gather for one of the biggest dates in the Gypsy calendar….
My Big Fat Gypsy Ladies day explores the unique bond between many in the travelling community and their horses; from the unique spectacle of a horse fair to the excitement of a road race in the dead of night. But as we discover, while the fairs may mean one thing to Traveller men... to many of the women it is a place to stand out from the crowd and find love….
Roseanne is a 17 year old Romany Gypsy getting ready for the summers horse fairs. Gypsies and Travellers have been convening at these events for generations – but Roseanne isn’t interested in the horses. For her it’s a chance to dress to impress, socialise and maybe even find a boyfriend. When it comes to appearance she’s going all out, having commissioned a stunning outfit inspired by Beyonce’s Survivor album. But come the first fair of the year, at Kenilworth, disaster strikes as the freezing cold weather forces her to abandon the costume altogether.
Luckily for her, Kenilworth is just a warm up for the biggest event of her summer – The Epsom Derby. Here the Queen watches over the day’s events from the grandstand and the cream of British society dress in top and tails or extravagantly priced hats in order to watch the day’s races. But on the other side of the track – away from the pomp and splendour, Gypsies and Travellers have been gathering since the 15th Century.
Roseanne has come in an acid yellow outfit, but she isn’t interested in impressing the Royals - “I’d rather stay with my own kind, Gypsy people, I don’t want to go and mix do I?” Soon though her appearance wins her other admirers – Nathan is an English Traveller – who appears quite keen. But he will have to get past her chaperone, Roseanne’s brother Boy, who is under strict instructions to not let her out of his sight.
Meanwhile 16 year old Irish Traveller Alice is also gearing up for Epsom. For her the fairs are about one thing and one thing only – fashion. Alice has a huge wardrobe of outfits and says of the dresses “They keep you company when you’re alone”. One more dress can’t do any harm though and we see her trying on a myriad of options. Whilst at the shop she reveals that not all Traveller girls have the same great taste – recalling a Gypsy fashion disaster that made its owner look “like a banana”
For 8 year old Martha, Epsom was to be the highlight of the summer, until an eviction notice forced her family to cancel their plans. With 20 horses on the site, Martha is worried about where they will all be housed – as she explains – horses have feeling too. Luckily for Martha a last minute reprieve means they can attend the fair – and Martha arrives armed with her five pounds, ready to hit the shopping stalls….
While for girls the equine element of the horse races can be an irrelevance, for the many Traveller men, they remain a passion. Horses are traded at Appleby fair in Cumbria for tens of thousands of pounds, and we witness a sale sealed with a slap of a hand. Also we meet father and son team Matt and Rob, who have come here to trade horses. Their livestock is either used for pulling traditional Gypsy carts or illegal trotting races. But unlike the thoroughbreds at Epsom, their horses have a different training regime – they are sometimes rewarded with a can of Fosters at the end of the day. Later we see the Matt and Rob taking part in a trotting race – a clandestine sport that remains a key part of the sporting calendar for some Gypsies and Travellers. But racing horses on the open road is illegal so it must take place at the crack of dawn.
Finally we meet 8 year old horse fanatic Margaret who is getting ready for her dream communion. The event has been months in planning and a spectacular garment has been commissioned from dressmaker Thelma Madine. But the day would not be complete without a horse and carriage to escort her to the venue….
Action packed and full of fascinating characters, My Big Fat Gypsy Ladies Day is a show that explores the Gypsy and Traveller love affair with horses – a love that for men and women can mean very different things.
Produced and Directed by: