If you’ve been eager for an invitation to an Irish Traveler wedding but have yet to make it on a guest list, you’ll soon get your chance.
One North Augusta couple is inviting you – and everyone else in the country – to crash their wedding by way of national television.
To make that possible, they have spent most of the past six months living in front of TV cameras for a new reality series on the TLC network.
“It is the most stressful thing I have ever done in my life except for being pregnant,” said Tamara McKown, 19, whose experience culminated in her Dec. 10 wedding to 23-year-old Bill M. McKown II. The ceremony took place on the front lawn of his Kerry Court home in the insular Irish Traveler community that straddles the Aiken and Edgefield county lines.
The couple was selected for the TLC series after responding to an online advertisement last spring, Tamara McKown said.
“We e-mailed a woman in the (United Kingdom), and two weeks later they were here,” she said.
A British crew from Firecracker Films, known for the TLC show My Big, Fat Gypsy Wedding, arrived in May and began docmenting their preparations for matrimony and everything else in their lives, including the birth of their son, Jackson, in July.
That crew was later replaced by another from Chicago, she said.
TLC acknowledged that a new show was in the works, but network spokesman Dustin Smith said there was no title or air date he could share yet.
The McKowns said they were willing to open up their lives to the intrusion of constant TV coverage because they wanted to dispel some of the rumors and myths about the Irish Traveler culture and lifestyle, which is often viewed with bemused suspicion by outsiders.
“We want to let people see how it really is,” said Tamara McKown, who is originally from west Tennessee.
Her introduction to Irish Traveler culture came after she met Bill McKown at a local shopping mall in July 2010.
“He showed up at my house that night,” she said.”
There were other strong incentives to allow the cameras into their lives, such as the lure of fame and fortune. Tamara said she hopes to launch a singing career after her name and face become part of the Twitterverse.
“I’m a vocalist, so it was a great opportunity for me to plug my music,” she said.
It also probably didn’t hurt that the show “picked up the tab” for the wedding
expenses, from the cake to the ostrich feathers on the bridesmaids’ dresses, according to the groom’s father, Bill McKown, a Myrtle Beach, S.C., businessman who has run for statewide office a couple of times.
The elder McKown said he met his son’s mother, Mary Jo McKown, nee Sherlock, through business connections he developed within the Irish Traveler community during the 1980s. They have since divorced but remain friends, he said.
He said previous national news coverage has made Travelers wary of media exposure, so the TLC show will provide an unprecedented glimpse into their culture. But only a glimpse.
“They got in the front door, but they didn’t get all access. For the first round, it was pretty good,” the senior Bill McKown said.
Tamara said certain subjects, such as work and money, were off limits, and none of their Irish Traveler friends and relatives participated in the show, including the mother of the groom.
“She wouldn’t get on camera,” the bride said. “She ran away.”
Even though her new in-laws weren’t eager to be on camera, they were not totally opposed to the idea, she said. That they could opt out actually made it easier to film the couple’s life.
“It was about us,” she said. “It wasn’t about anyone else.”