Gypsy Weddings dressmaker Thelma Madine's benefit fraud shame
Big Fat Gypsy Weddings' Thelma Madine is riding high in her new TV series Thelma's Gypsy Girls teaching travellers dressmaking skills.
But 10 years ago it was a very different story as she served four months behind bars for benefit fraud.
In 2001, the wedding dress designer was found guilty of false accounting and sentenced to 12 months' imprisonment for claiming £10,700 of benefits while she ran a stall in Great Homer Street Market, Liverpool.
'I'm not proud of what I did,' Thelma, 59, admits. 'It was wrong. The income support I claimed was like a security blanket but I should have stopped claiming sooner than I did.'
During her trial at Liverpool Crown Court, judge Mark Brown slammed her lawyer's claims that Thelma needed the money, saying: 'It went towards maintaining your relatively lavish lifestyle. You were living in an expensive flat and driving a BMW car.'
Thelma ended up serving 4 months in prison - and even spent Christmas 2001 in jail.
'The sentence was a huge shock and a real low point,' she says. 'But in a strange way going to prison was the best thing that could have happened to me.
'I'm not supposed to say this, but I loved it. I think it was the only time in my life that I didn't have to worry about anyone else. I found myself.
'It taught me not to judge people and to get to know them first - a lesson that's stood me in good stead with the travelling community.'
Thelma's Gypsy Girls is on Channel 4 at 9pm on Sundays.