If you couldn’t get enough of Mellie Stanley and her sisters — the beautiful breakout stars of TLC’s My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding — you’ll love Sunday’s special episode devoted exclusively to the ladies themselves.
My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding: The Stanley Sisters follows black-sheep Mellie and her sisters Nettie, the volatile mother hen, and quiet, calm and comical Laura plus their high-maintenance, fashion-obsessed cousin Kayla as they deal with two family crises that test the boundaries of their gypsy beliefs and iron-clad family bonds.
Further bucking the strict code of behavior to which Romanichal women are expected to adhere, Mellie has taken a lucrative job stripping under the name of “Gypsy” at a local club called Vixens. Though she’s unapologetic about her line of work, Mellie admits that she would be mortified if Nettie ever saw her dance. Which is exactly what her big sister plans to do in the hopes of shaming the girl into settling down.
And Nettie has even bigger fish to fry — her 14-year-old daughter Nookie has run off and possibly eloped with her 17-year-old boyfriend Pookie. Nettie hasn’t seen the girl in a month and is livid that Pookie’s family is ignoring the unwritten gypsy code that says if a very, very young girl has run away and her mother wants her back, the child is to be returned home. She tries involving the police (that’s “muskers” in gypsy-speak), to no avail.
On a lighter note, Kayla’s oldest son, Richard, Jr., is ready to be baptized and Kayla is planning a blowout celebration in honor of the event.
But first things first. Nettie enlists her daughter-in-law Lotte and the pair heads off to Vixens to confront Mellie. The intrusion and embarrassment send Mellie into a frenzy.
Nonetheless, when the rest of the women in her family pile into an RV to make the six-hour road trip to the town where Nookie and Pookie are supposedly hiding, Mellie shakes off her anger — and her hangover — and boards the camper to serve as the warrior of the bunch.
When Pookie’s family tracks the women down at a hotel in which the runaways are rumored to be hiding, the fists start flying again.
Will Nettie convince Mellie to ditch the dirty-dancing life? Which family prevails in the parking lot girl-rumble? And will Nookie be returned to her desperate mom in time for Richie’s baptism?
Find out when My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding: The Stanley Sisters premieres Sunday, July 1 at 9/8CT followed immediately by the series’ reunion special My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding: The Aftermath.
I spoke with Mellie Stanley this week about the impact of the show on her and her family members’ lives, how gypsy women stay so fit, where she shops — and the ultra-surprising turn her love life has taken.
Channel Guide Magazine: How were you and your family first approached to do the show?
Mellie Stanley: The researcher from Firecracker Films had contacted me on Facebook and told me that they was in our town and would like to do an interview with me, and did we have any big parties going on. At the time, all we were doing was a baby shower because my niece was pregnant — the family reunion wasn’t for months later. So we met up with them on a Saturday and we started filming on Tuesday.
CGM: Did you know at the time that you would become part of a multi-episode arc, or did things just work out so well initially that they kept on filming?
MS: It worked out so well, and they loved the atmosphere and just how our family was — they said that we were the most open gypsies that they had ever met. So they just wanted to keep filming on all the other events that we had.
CGM: Had you watched the original My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding from the U.K. so you sort of knew what you were in for?
MS: Honestly, I watched one part of an episode from the Big Fat Gypsy Wedding from the U.K. and I haven’t really watched it anymore, because I’m not a TV person. So when we started filming — and still as we were filming — I was like, “This is fake and it’s never going to be aired.” And so when it actually did air, I was like, “Oh my gosh, it actually is true! And the way I acted was outrageous!” [laughs]
CGM: Do you feel like you were represented truthfully on the show?
MS: You know, I was myself throughout the whole show — that’s the way I act — so I couldn’t be disappointed with it. Because that’s me every day.
CGM: You also shared some pretty serious, heartbreaking personal stories with the TV audience. Any regrets, or are you proud of how much you’ve survived?
MS: The way I look at it, there’s going to be people out there that hate you and there’s going to be people out there that like you, and what I done, everything was real and the truth. So if people got something to say, I mean, I’ll give ‘em hell back. But it’s not nobody’s fault. I’m the one who got on TV and talked about it, so I’m happy with everything. It couldn’t have been no better. Because I know myself that it was all true and all real.
CGM: Have you heard from other gypsy girls who feel the same way that you do and want to forge their own path regardless of backlash from their family?
MS: Oh yeah! My ex-husband’s sister is the same way — and there’s a lot of gypsy girls out there that feel that way. I have over 7,000 Facebook messages from ever since the show has aired, and a lot of them is from gypsies that is like me and they’re asking me how do I avoid what my family’s opinions are — because they want to, but at the same time, they want their family, too. And I just told them, “You do what you want to do. Your family will be mad for about a month or two and then they’ll eventually get over it. You’ll argue every now and then — but they will eventually get over the point that you’re not going to do what they want you to do. And if you don’t want to be with a gypsy, you’re not going to be with one, and they can’t make you do it. They love you, so they’ll end up accepting you for who you are.”
CGM: Do gypsy families ever completely turn their backs on loved ones or will you always be welcomed back, no matter what you’ve done?
MS: You will always be welcomed back in. I don’t like to put this out there, but my ex-husband’s sister — her family, they don’t believe in going with a black person at all. They will literally disown you for that. But like I told her — because she’s been with this guy for four years, and at first they knew about it and they disowned her, but now she just sneaks and does it — but deep in their hearts they know she does it. And they accept her.
CGM: And that’s how your family is, too — even after, as we find out in The Stanley Sisters, you’ve taken a job as an exotic dancer?
MS: It’s pretty much the way we are. I still work there, and [Nettie] still talks to me. We argue and we fight. But we can get into the biggest argument and in five minutes we can sit there and talk like nothing has happened.
CGM: You were also at the center of the most talked-about episode of American Gypsy Wedding in which you got into a physical brawl with another woman at your nephew’s wedding to a woman you and Nettie hated. Did you know cameras would be right there to capture it — or did that not matter to you either way?
MS: You know, I had made a promise that I wasn’t going to start anything at that wedding and so I kept my cool as much as I could. But I knew I was getting ready to blow up and I didn’t want it to be on camera — because it was just something that I had to do. And if I would’ve gotten a hold of the one that I wanted to get a hold of, I probably would have been locked up for manslaughter. That’s how much anger I have in for her.
But no, when I walked outside the doors, I didn’t know that there was any cameras out there. When I walked out, I was just in my own world and then her cousin started running her mouth. And there was a camera guy there. And if somebody is going to run their mouth to me, I don’t care who’s around. It could be a cop. It could be whatever. If somebody’s going to run their mouth, I’m not just going to sit there and be like, “OK, I’m a bitch and I’m going to take it.” No! I would have to get locked up or they would have to do something bad to me because I’m not going to calm down!
CGM: And to be fair, Diamond laid her hands on you first. You didn’t throw the first punch.
MS: No, I didn’t! She pushed me. But I still got a disorderly conduct on me because they had got away!
And that’s another thing about me and gypsies. Like, as soon as they hear the word “muskers,” they’re runnin’. And I’m like, “I don’t care if you’ve got to lock me up. Lock me up, but I’m going to stand there until the end.” I don’t care if I got my ass whupped or if I didn’t — I will be there till the end. And that’s exactly what I showed her — “I’m not scared of the cops and I’m not scared of you.” I told her that. Bring on whatever you want to bring on. I don’t care!
CGM: I was pretty shocked to see that none of the men who were right there intervened in the fight, even when it got pretty brutal. Is that part of gypsy culture?
MS: Yes, that is very much part of the culture. If you see anybody fighting, you do not break it up. Because that’s only going to cause more problems. If a man would’ve got in there and broke it up, another man would’ve got him and then it would’ve been a bigger fight.
CGM: What has been the response to the show and your family’s participation from your community? Are they happy about it, or are there people who are angry that a pretty private culture is out there for the world to see?
MS: It’s really basically half and half. You have some that they like it. You have some that’s just mad — basically the men, because they didn’t want them showing the guys out there knockin’ on the doors [for their paving businesses], how they do that, because some of them aren’t legit to do it.
And then you have some of them that’s just jealous because they didn’t make it to other episodes. They made it on one and it was over. So you have the jealousy. And then you have the ones that don’t want their culture out there. And there’s the ones that’s just happy that they see it.
CGM: We’ve had girls posting on our blog that they want to “become” gypsies, just so they can be like you. Do you hear from them as well?
MS: Oh yeah, that’s part of the Facebook messages. I only click through some of them because there are so many, but I have some ladies that tell me that they will drive up here for me to give them a makeover and show them how to clean and all kinds of stuff.
And one lady wanted to lose weight and know my tips for that because we stay so skinny. She said even after my sister having nine kids, how was she so little? And the only method we have is that when you’re pregnant, you work out. You don’t stop your daily life just because you’re pregnant. And then if you want to sit down and eat and then sit back and relax — as soon as we eat, we eat lemons and drink malt vinegar and then we get up and clean. You’re literally not sitting down at all. The only time you’re laying down is when it’s time to go to bed. Like I told her, the only way that we stay skinny is that we’re never off of our feet. Only when we’re sleeping. And as soon as we wake our eyes up, we’re straight to cleaning.
CGM: We’ve also heard from some non-gypsy women who’ve watched the show and say that they envy the lifestyle that is expected of gypsy women — being home all day, taking care of their home and their families and themselves?
MS: A lot of people say they envy it, but if they only knew how hard it is! It’s a job. It’s a 24-hour-a-day job that you have to take care of. Even when you’re sleeping. Your husband isn’t going to get up and get him a glass of water at 2 o’clock in the morning — he’s going to wake you up to do it. So really when you’re sleeping, you still have to listen for him. If he wants a bowl of cereal in the middle of the night, you have to listen for him. And the kids. It’s not as easy as they think it is.
CGM: Really? When the men are home, the women are expected to do everything for them?
MS: Oh yeah. The men get home at about five or six o’clock in the evening and you already have their clothes laid out on the bathroom sink. You get their dinner ready while they’re taking a shower — you get their dinner started before they walk in the door. As soon as they’re home, they’re in the bedroom. They do not come out. They sit on the bed, lay back, turn on the TV, eat, sleep. They’ll die in the bedroom.
CGM: Do they play with the kids after they’ve eaten dinner, or is that the women’s job as well?
MS: No, their time with the kids is when we go on vacations, like when we go to Atlantic City and stuff. That’s basically the women’s break and they would watch the kids. So when we go to Atlantic City or any beach or anything, the men will sit there and they will watch the kids or they’ll take them to the beach and the women get their break. A little bit.
I don’t have kids myself, but I do have six sisters and 46 nieces and nephews. And as soon as you’re away from the kids, the men are on the phone, like “Oh my God!” and you’re right back there. It’s just you, your husband and your kids that you’re hanging out with, because the women are so attached to them that they can’t be away from ‘em.
CGM: So do you see yourself eventually being like that with a husband and a family?
MS: I will always say that that part of the culture is in me. I cannot take that out. Even if I have an American boyfriend, I’m the same way. He’s not allowed to touch anything; he’s not allowed to do anything. And I will be like that with my kids. Like, some of my nieces, I hate to be away from them. That part of the culture is me. But the other part of the culture? I will work. I love working. And I will not be with another gypsy man. I will be with a gorger boy.
CGM: And has your family has accepted that now?
MS: They have. And actually they have accepted me being with a musker [the gypsy term for cop]. Because I am dating a musker. I finally broke it to them a couple of days ago that I am with a musker. And they’re OK with it. Finally.
CGM: Wow! Now that I didn’t see coming at all! Will we see you and the man in question on The Stanley Sisters?
MS: Me dating the musker you won’t see on the show. I’ve been keeping that a secret for quite a while now. I wouldn’t even tell them that I have a boyfriend. We got together the first week of April and we were actually together when they were filming The Stanley Sisters and I wouldn’t even mention it. I’d say, “I’m talking to a gypsy boy, leave me alone!” just to get them off my back. But he’s a musker — and we are actually talking about getting married.
CGM: Would you do that for the cameras, Mellie?
MS: I’m not sure he would. He doesn’t even want me bringing things up because he already thinks my family is going to hate him. So I actually broke it to them about three days ago, when we started talking about getting married. I was like, “I’m with this boy, Sean, he’s a state trooper and I don’t care what y’all say — we’re going to be together.”
My one sister ended up saying she’s OK with it. And then I broke it to Nettie — that was the hardest one, because I was scared that she was going to blow up. But she’s actually OK with it. And my other sister. Now my brothers, on the other hand, they are not going to be OK with it at all. But I don’t care.
CGM: Well it seems as though with your sisters, you have to do something specifically to them before they really get their backs up and get ready to fight, so maybe I’m not so surprised … OK, I’m still pretty surprised.
MS: Oh I surprised myself! When we first started talking, he told me he was a plumber from out of Texas. He didn’t want me to know what he done, because he knew I was a gypsy and he knew that we don’t like them. And then about two weeks into the relationship, I started talking about my best friend’s ex and I was like, “God, I want to torture him. I want to break his legs and break every one of his fingers and just torture him.” And then I said, “I wanted to just kill him and throw him into the ocean” — but I was just talkin’! I wasn’t really meaning of doing it. And Sean just looks at me and shows me his badge and says, “You know I’m a Virginia state trooper, right?” And I was like, “Oh my God!”
So we broke up for about a week, because I couldn’t handle that he lied to me. But he’s actually a narcotics cop and he didn’t want nobody to know what he done, because he’s busted so many people and he’s gotta watch his back.
CGM: So where did you meet him?
MS: I actually met him at the club that I work at.
CGM: We’ve seen the party clothing from Sondra Celli that you and your family wear, but — as you know — a lot of the people who post on the blog and elsewhere on the web want to know where you get the clothes you wear every day. Do you have any shopping tips for them?
MS: You know, I’m about the most cheapest person, I’m not even going to lie to you! I go to Walmart and buy some things there and I’ll diamond ‘em up, or I’ll just go and buy a pair of regular jeans from Rue 21 from the clearance rack and just diamond ‘em up myself. Basically I just buy the plain-Jane stuff and fix it up myself.
Mainly it’s Rue 21 in the mall, and they have the little five-dollar, seven-dollar racks and I go straight back there. Because I don’t want to go out there and spend two- or three hundred dollars on a pair of jeans that I’m only going to wear two or three times. I’d rather go out there and pay 10 or 20 dollars for a pair of jeans, fix ’em up myself, wear ’em a couple of times and then go buy another pair.
I’m like that Gretchen Wilson song — “I can buy the same damn thing on the Walmart shelf half-price!”
My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding: The Stanley Sisters premieres July 1 at 9/8CT on TLC. Immediately after, the network will air the series’ reunion special My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding: The Aftermath, in which the cast will fill viewers in on how their lives have changed since they shot their episodes and give further insight into the culture, customs and conflicts in their tight-knit communities.