MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — A fight filmed on the steps of the historic Berkeley County Courthouse played out on televisions across the country Sunday night as part of TLC’s “My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding.”
Two young Romanichal gypsy women shoved and punched each other following a wedding in the reality series that depicts the everyday lives of families like Mellie Stanley’s. She was charged with disorderly conduct after the brawl.
Cameras caught Mellie and the maid of honor, Diamond, in what Mellie called “a huge argument.” It centered around comments allegedly made about the bride’s mother-in-law.
Mellie, who lives in Martinsburg, sat down with The Herald-Mail for an interview Sunday before the show aired. While she does not watch every episode in its entirety, the 23-year-old said she would tune in with other viewers at 10 p.m.
“Tonight, I want to watch the fight,” she said.
Mellie is unapologetic about using her fists. Gypsies, she said, love big and fight big, but are quick to forget about disagreements.
The show might leave some viewers perplexed when the women glue rhinestones to a bra, brush their teeth with bleach or encourage young girls to gyrate when dancing. However, Mellie and her older sister, Nettie, said nothing is staged.
“That’s the way we dress, we act. That’s us,” Mellie said. “That’s what some people don’t want to get out there.”
“We are the same (as everyone else). The only thing different is we might be more blinged out,” Nettie said in a phone interview.
Nettie and Mellie recently filmed a pilot for a spinoff series called “The Stanley Sisters,” which also involves their cousin Kayla Williams and her sister-in-law, Laura Johnston. Mellie said she expects that show to air June 24 on TLC.
A reunion episode for “My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding” will be filmed in Martinsburg mid-month.
The Stanley sisters, who have nine siblings, were discovered by the show’s creators on Facebook. TLC had already been airing “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding” with footage recorded in Europe.
Through research done by the show’s producers, Mellie and Nettie learned they descended from some of the first Romanichal gypsies to flee England for the United States due to persecution.
“There are an estimated 1 million gypsies throughout the U.S., but most live in complete secrecy, away from the judgment and discrimination that plague their communities,” TLC wrote in a news release.
The Romanichals (also Romnichals) are a Romani sub-group in the United Kingdom and other parts of the English-speaking world.
Romanichals are thought to have arrived in Britain in the 16th century. They are closely related to the Welsh Kale and Romani groups in continental Europe.
Mellie only started watching the European series regularly after being cast in the U.S. show.
“It shows how different we are. ... They fight for money; we blacktop for money,” she said.
Indeed, many of her male family members and friends do driveway work across the country, even flying to Florida when temperatures dip locally. Some of their wives and children travel with them, while others stay in one place.
Mellie has lived in various communities and received more education than many Romanichal (or “Rumney”) girls because she lived with a non-gypsy foster family. She considers Martinsburg home.
“No matter where I go, the ’Burg is where I end up,” she said.
Family members sometimes derogatorily call Mellie a “ref” when she acts like a mix of Rumney and nongypsy or “gorger.” Mellie, who is twice divorced, said she did not want to stay home to raise children and clean, or suffer the physical abuse she claims is common in gypsy marriages.
“I always wanted to work,” she said. “I just wasn’t allowed.”
Working as an exotic dancer now has pros and cons, Mellie said. The show has led to recognition from customers, she said.
“Last night at work, I signed so many dollar bills for people,” she said with a laugh.
Being recognized seems to catch Mellie off guard.
“I didn’t know this would come of it,” she said.
The notoriety might be just one more conflict in Mellie’s life. She teeters between the gypsy and gorger worlds, faces serious choices in a current relationship, and talks of leaving the limelight and possibly joining the U.S. Army, yet she recently got a tattoo that says “Hollywood.”
Being portrayed as wild or “hellie Mellie” does not necessarily faze Mellie, who said she is authentic on television. She does cringe when remembering an argument with Nettie at a Martin’s Food Market.
“She’s like a mother to me,” Mellie said.
Nettie, 37, has nine children of her own and describes herself as the backbone of her family. She hopes Mellie will see some of her antics on film and start making better choices.
She also wants viewers to embrace the gypsies as a family-oriented society.
“We want to love (nongypsies) as they love each other,” Nettie said.