Channel 4 to go behind the seams of gyspy dressmaking business

by Lynn Connolly

Brand new series Thelma’s Gypsy Girls (w/t), made by Firecracker Films, will follow dressmaker Thelma Madine as she takes on ten completely inexperienced gypsy and traveller girls as trainees to help create dream dresses for her demanding clientele.

Thelma has been working with the gypsy and traveller community for many years, and has seen hundreds of girls happily married off. But she’s also come in contact with many girls who aren’t content with settling for the traditional role women have played for generations – leave school early, get married, have kids and look after their husbands.

Many are desperate to gain a qualification, make their own money, travel and do something other with their lives than look after their families…

Thelma has decided it’s time to give something back to the community she’s built her success on and passionately believes that every woman should be given the opportunity to work and control her own life. She built up her business from nothing after the collapse of her first marriage, and now wants to give some gypsy and traveller girls a chance.

Demand for Thelma’s fabulous dresses has gone through the roof over the past year, so she needs to expand her business to cope with new orders. When she recently put up an ad on Facebook looking for young gypsies or travellers interested in joining her business as trainees, she received a staggering 700 responses overnight.

So now, for the first time ever, Thelma is taking the brave step of finding ten girls and the programme follows her and the trainees for six months, from recruitment to successfully completing their traineeship.

But it’s a risk – can ten girls with no prior experience really learn how to make those intricate dresses in such a short space of time, and to the exacting standards of the customers? For the girls, it’s the chance of a lifetime – but Thelma has worked hard to gain the trust of the community and establish her reputation and could lose everything if her trainees don’t deliver.

Thelma’s Gypsy Girls (w/t) has been commissioned by Channel 4 Deputy Head of Features, Andrew Jackson, and Features Commissioning Editor, Kate Teckman. It will be executive produced by Firecracker’s Jes Wilkins and air in 2012.

Thelma Madine said: “There are so many girls who want a job. Maybe they don’t work because they’ve never had that opportunity. I really do want to do this. The travellers have helped put me where I am today and this is my way of giving something back.”

Andrew Jackson said: “Thelma is a brilliant piece of talent who I know is going to be a real star in this new series. It’s going to be fascinating to watch the girls not only get to grips with working in the shop and acquiring new skills, but also working alongside Thelma’s close-knit team.”

Jes Wilkins said: “‘Thelma has been a huge part of the success of Big Fat Gypsy Weddings. She has struck a chord with millions of viewers and we are delighted to be working with her again on this exciting new series.”

© Channel 4

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.