Together with young people from the brilliant Travelling Forward projects, we had the opportunity to ask the accomplished singer-songwriter and actress Twinnie about her experiences as a musician and a member of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community. Our aim was to talk about the stigma people in the community sometimes face and to find out how this has influenced her and her career over the years, as well as getting her advice for young people in the Harborough District.
Q: Where did you start your career?
A: I’ve been on stage since I was 4 and landed my first West End Show with Brian May from Queen when I was 19. I’ve always loved performing and being on stage and music has always been my calling.
Q: What are you doing now?
A: I currently have an EP out ‘Welcome to the Club’ and I’m putting songs together for a new album. I’m hoping to become the first British female to have a US Country Number 1. That’s my big goal.
Q: Your parents are from different communities and cultures, how did that impact your life growing up? Did you ever feel out of place in either the GRT community or the settled community when you were younger?
A: I think storytelling is a huge part of the traveller world and that definitely got instilled in me from a young age. I think growing up I always felt slightly out of place in either world but as I’ve grown I’ve learned to appreciate that I’m a part of two amazing cultures and I think my parents helped give me that growing up by showing me both sides.
Q: If you could change something from when you were growing up, what would it be?
A: Nothing really, I think our experiences, good or bad make us who we are.
Q: You’ve spoken about the stigma and prejudice that still exists towards Gypsies and Travellers, some people have said it’s “the last acceptable form of racism”. How much criticism do you get about being a gypsy, and how do you deal with it?
A: Unfortunately I think a stigma will exist as long as ignorance does and the way the media portrays different aspects of our culture does nothing to help. I feel like we need more representatives from our community in the media to tackle the stigma. I think Tyson Fury and his wife Paris are amazing role models of what our community stands for. I think we have to also set good examples within our own community and call out behaviour that does not align with our core values and what we stand for. I’m hopeful that the school system is changing, especially as I have a nephew and little cousins, I don’t want them to ever feel excluded. I fear it hasn’t changed that much as I know discrimination is alive and well.
Q: What more do you think can be done to help remove the stigma towards the GRT communities and break down the barriers between them and the settled community?
A: I think there needs to be much more education in schools about travellers and especially for teachers so they can help tackle the bullying that goes on.
Q: Have you ever talked about this stigma with your non-traveller friends? Do they understand?
A: I’ve spoken at length to different people and I’m lucky to be surrounded by amazing people who celebrate each other. I think society as a whole needs to realise there’s good and bad in every community and the media needs to portray that too.
Q: Who were your role models?
A: There was no one from my community that was doing what I wanted to do so I had no one to look up to in that sense so I hope that I’m a good example of what can be achieved if you put your mind to something and work hard. I grew up on Hollywood movie musicals the only reference of a Gyspy I knew was “Gypsy” the film.
Q: Do you need an education to follow your dream or can you do it in another way?
A: An education is always going to be an advantage and I will always encourage education. Not only does it give you tools it also helps with understanding other people from different cultures. I don’t think everyone needs a degree in on order to be successful. Hard work and talent will get you a lot further. But education does help.
Q: What are the main pieces of advice you would give to a young traveller/gypsy who has a dream but is scared of following it?
A: I’d just tell her to stay focused and keep going. Follow your heart and don’t listen to outside voices. There’s only one of you and there’s never been anyone like you and there never will be again, that’s you’re superpower. We have one life and you have to live it for you no one else. Regret is way more painful than failure so follow that dream and surround yourself with people who make you better.