Violet Cannon had a huge gypsy wedding, but after a volatile marriage she enjoyed her divorce party even more
Originally published 15 February 2011;
As a romany gypsy, violet Cannon was always destined to have a huge wedding.
With 400 guests, a dress threaded with silver and adorned with thousands of Swarovski crystals, she certainly fulfilled her dreams.
However, within a year it was clear she and her husband weren’t going to have a fairy-tale ending as the marriage became plagued by rows. And after struggling on for a further seven years, Violet went against her culture’s beliefs and filed for divorce from her husband John,* now 30.
And she was so relieved to be rid of him that two weeks ago she threw a huge divorce party, attended by hundreds of friends.
'I was proud of myself for getting out of my marriage. It’s very rare for gypsy weddings to end in divorce'
She even fashioned a divorce party outfit from her massive wedding dress and ordered a cake iced with the words “My Big Fat Gypsy Divorce,” inspired by the hit TV series Big Fat Gypsy Weddings.
“I know my wedding day should’ve been the happier one,” says Violet, 31, who now lives with her parents in Castleford, West Yorkshire, and works liaising between gypsies and travellers and the authorities. “But my divorce party felt so good. I was proud of myself for getting out of my marriage. It’s very rare for gypsy weddings to end in divorce.”
Violet’s early years were spent living in a caravan, but at the age of nine she moved to a house in Bradford after the law changed meaning travellers weren’t allowed to camp at the roadside. She’d spend her summers travelling to horse fairs.
“I remember people calling us smelly gypos. But I was – and still am – very proud of my ethnic minority heritage,” she says.
Violet’s parents were strict and she wasn’t allowed to date before she was 16 and despite having three boyfriends before John, kissing and sex before marriage were banned. Even in her 20s, her curfew was 10pm.
Violet was 21 when she met John, then 20, at a fairground and they quickly fell in love. She remembers: “After six months he proposed and I was delighted.”
They set their wedding day for March 2002 and during their four-month engagement, Violet and her mum, also called Violet, now 55, threw themselves into preparations. First on the list was the dress, which Violet helped design.
“By the time I’d finished my wish list – Swarovski crystals, real silver thread, a billowing train stretching for over 6ft and intricately embroidered, and eight hoops under the skirt to give it a real fairy-tale look – the shop owner realised she’d have to take on extra staff to finish it on time! I loved it.”
The ceremony was at Bradford Cathedral and Violet arrived in a vintage car. The reception took place in a four-star hotel, with a huge buffet followed by gateaux, cheesecake and two wedding cakes.
Violet refuses to discuss how much it all cost, but the glitzy bash was paid for by her father, Tom, 56, a scrap metal merchant.
“Gypsies never talk about money,” she says.
But after the wedding Violet had to face up to the reality of married life, moving into a caravan on a site with John’s family.
“He seemed to do little more than loaf around on the site,” she recalls. “I’d get up at 6am to scrub our trailer, go out to work and then come home to cook. We argued constantly. I’d been brought up to believe that men treated women like princesses but he treated me with no respect.
'I think a lot of our problems stemmed from him being a fairground traveller rather than a Romany gypsy and not understanding my beliefs.
“I think a lot of our problems stemmed from him being a fairground traveller rather than a Romany gypsy and not understanding my beliefs.”
Because of her view that marriage is for life, Violet desperately tried to make their stormy romance work. But she didn’t want children with John because she feared bringing them up among constant rows.
She recalls: “After eight years I was utterly miserable, but I plastered on a smile and tried to pretend I was happy, I couldn’t talk to anyone as gypsies don’t tend to discuss our personal lives. But eventually after another heated argument, I knew I was worth more and had to leave. I did the next day.”
That was in October 2009 and although her parents were disappointed she’d have to bear the stigma of divorce, they welcomed Violet back home. She says: “They’d seen how miserable I’d become, and wanted the old, happy Violet back.”
Violet filed for divorce three months later and decided to throw a divorce party on 4 February – the day her divorce was to be finalised. She says: “The party was my way of saying, ‘I’m happy, I chose this.’
“Again, the first thing on my to-do list was my dress! I’d kept my wedding dress, imagining one day I might make it into cot covers for my baby. As I unpicked the stitches to modify it, I felt as though I was unpicking the misery of my marriage. It was brilliant. And I went back to the same bakery that made my wedding cake – they’d never made a designer divorce cake before.
“I invited my closest friends round to my house to eat it with me. We went on to a karaoke bar to meet everyone else and I sang D-I-V-O-R-C-E by Tammy Wynette.
“As I danced the night away I felt free. On my wedding day I’d had a few drinks – it’s the one time it’s acceptable for a gypsy girl to get merry in front of her parents. This time I didn’t need alcohol to feel merry!”
And Violet says her bad experience has not put her off getting married again – although she’s aware being a gypsy divorcee makes her unusual. “I still want to meet someone to have kids with – preferably a gypsy,” she says. “I just pray it’s not an issue that I’ve been married before.”
(Note: Stock photo used at the top of the page)