At the 2005 Make Poverty History march
|Birth name||Dawn Roma French|
11 October 1957 |
Holyhead, Anglesey, Wales
|Medium||Actress, writer, comedian|
|Spouse||Lenny Henry (m. 1984–2010)
Mark Bignell (2013–present)
|Notable works and roles||French & Saunders
The Vicar of Dibley
Murder Most Horrid
|Fellowship with Jennifer Saunders|
Dawn Roma French (born 11 October 1957) is an English actress, writer, and comedian, best known for starring in and writing for the comedy sketch show French and Saunders with comedy partner Jennifer Saunders and for playing the lead role as Geraldine Granger in the sitcom The Vicar of Dibley. French has been nominated for seven BAFTA Awards and also won a Fellowship BAFTA with Jennifer Saunders.
French was born in Holyhead, Anglesey, Wales, to English parents Denys Vernon French and Felicity "Roma" O'Brien of Irish origin from Plymouth. She was educated at the independent St Dunstan's Abbey School (now absorbed by Plymouth College). She has a brother, Gary French, who was born in 1955. Her father, Denys (5 August 1932 – 11 September 1977), was a member of the Royal Air Force, being stationed at RAF Valley. The RAF partly funded her private education. When her father was stationed at the former RAF Faldingworth, she attended Caistor Grammar School in Caistor, Lincolnshire, boarding in the school's Lindsey house. She later won a debating scholarship that brought her to study at the Spence School in New York.
French has claimed that her self-confidence and self-belief stems from her father, who told her how beautiful she was each day. She stated, "He taught me to value myself. He told me that I was beautiful and the most precious thing in his life." He had a history of severe depression and attempted suicides but managed to conceal his illness from Dawn and her brother.
She then went on to study at the Central School of Speech and Drama in 1977, where she met her future comedy partner, Jennifer Saunders. Both came from RAF backgrounds. They had grown up on the same base, even having had the same best friend, although never meeting. At first, as far as Saunders was concerned, French was a "cocky little upstart". The hatred was mutual: French considered Saunders snooty and aloof. The comic duo originally did not like each other as French wanted to become a drama teacher whereas Saunders loathed the idea and thus disliked French for being enthusiastic and confident about the course.
French and Saunders shared a flat whilst at college and were influenced to do comedy by their flatmates as part of their projects for college. After talking in depth for the first time, they came to be friends. It was while at college that she broke up with her fiancé, David Smyth, a former Royal Navy officer. After they graduated, they formed a double-act called the Menopause Sisters. Saunders has described the act, which involved wearing tampons in their ears, as "cringeworthy." The manager of the club where they performed recalled, "They didn't seem to give a damn. There was no star quality about them at all." French and Saunders came to public attention as members of the Comic Strip, part of the alternative comedy scene in the early 1980s.
French has also written a best-selling epistolary autobiography, which she has titled Dear Fatty. French was paid a £1.5 million advance for the book, which was released in 2008. On an appearance on The Paul O'Grady Show on 6 October 2008, French said that "Fatty" is her nickname for Jennifer Saunders, as a joke about her own size. French said that she became great friends with Saunders well before they started working together, which was "over 30 years ago." The book consists of letters to the different people who have been in her life.
French has had an extensive career on television, debuting on Channel 4's The Comic Strip Presents series in an episode called "Five Go Mad in Dorset" in 1982. Each episode presented a self-contained story distinct from other episodes and, in addition to French and Saunders, showcased Comic Strip performers Peter Richardson, Rik Mayall and Robbie Coltrane and Adrian Edmondson. She acted in 27 of the 37 episodes and wrote two of them. One episode featured a parody of spaghetti westerns and another a black and white film about a hopelessly goofy boy. Some of French's first exposure to a wider audience occurred when comedy producer Martin Lewis recorded a Comic Strip record album in 1981 which featured sketches by French & Saunders. The album was released on Springtime!/Island Records in September 1981 and presented French and Jennifer Saunders to an audience outside of London. In 1985, French starred with Saunders, Tracey Ullman and Ruby Wax in Girls On Top, which portrayed four eccentric women sharing a flat in London.
French has co-written and starred in her and Saunders' comedy series, French & Saunders, which debuted in 1987 and still airs sporadically to the present. On their show, the duo have spoofed many celebrities such as Madonna, Cher, Catherine Zeta-Jones and the Spice Girls. They have also parodied films such as The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets After 20 years being on television together, their last sketch series, A Bucket o' French & Saunders, began airing on 8 September 2007.
French and Saunders have also followed separate careers. During French's time starring in Murder Most Horrid, from 1991 to 1999, she played a different character each week, whether it was the murderer, victim or even both. In 2002, French appeared in the comedy/drama mini-series Ted and Alice. In the series, which was set in the Lake District, French played a tourist information officer who incidentally falls in love with an alien. She also appeared in the BBC sitcom Wild West, with Catherine Tate, in which she played a woman living in Cornwall who is also a lesbian, more through lack of choice than any specific natural urge. This series did not meet with as much success as her earlier roles and it ended in 2004 after two years.
French's biggest solo television role to date has been as the title figure in the long running and popular BBC comedy The Vicar of Dibley, which Richard Curtis created specifically for her. She starred as Geraldine Granger, a vicar of a small village called Dibley. An audience of 12.3 million watched the final full-length episode to see her character's marriage ceremony. Her last appearance on The Vicar of Dibley was with Sting and Trudie Styler in a special mini episode made for Comic Relief in 2007. She was nominated for a BAFTA for Best Comedy Performance in the last episode of The Vicar of Dibley. Repeats of the show on BBC One still attract millions of viewers and it also retains a following amongst PBS viewers in the United States.
More recently,[when?] French played a major role in Jam & Jerusalem as a woman called "Rosie" who has dissociative identity disorder and with it an alter ego called "Margaret". She co-starred alongside Sue Johnston (as the lead character, Sal), Jennifer Saunders (regular bit-part as Caroline – also created and wrote the series) and Joanna Lumley (regular bit-part Delilah). She also made a guest appearance in Little Britain as Vicky Pollard's mother, Shelly Pollard, who was seen defending her daughter in the dock in Thailand as she was charged with drug smuggling and was sentenced to 27 years prison, 10 more than her daughter. French also appeared in a special version of Little Britain Live which featured several celebrity guests and was shown by the BBC as part of Comic Relief. She played the part of a lesbian barmaid in a sketch with Daffyd Thomas. In 2006, French played a role in the television series Marple in the episode "Sleeping Murder". She also appeared as Caroline Arless in the BBC television drama Lark Rise to Candleford in 2008. Talking about her role, she has stated, "I'm quite a vibrant character. She's quite extreme, in that she drinks too much, laughs too much and sings too much. But she loves her family very much; it's just that she goes over the top sometimes." This is also reflected in her latest role as Joy Aston in the comedy thriller Psychoville.
On television, French has kissed (in some cases, for charity) Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, George Clooney, Richard Armitage, Gordon Ramsay, Michael Bublé and Paul O'Grady. French also raised money for charity by kissing Hugh Grant.
French appeared in Little Crackers, short comedy films which were broadcast over Christmas in 2010.
Film and theatre
In films, French has played The Fat Lady in the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, replacing Elizabeth Spriggs, who played the character in the first film of the series. French's then-husband, Lenny Henry, provided the voice of the Shrunken Head in the same film, though they shared no screen time. In 2005 French provided the voice for the character Mrs. Beaver in Disney and Walden Media's film adaptation of C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. In 2010, French lent her voice to the role of Angie the Elephant in the environmental animated film, Animals United.
She has also taken to roles in the theatre. French has previously appeared in plays such as A Midsummer Night's Dream, My Brilliant Divorce, and Smaller, which last is about a schoolteacher caring for her disabled mother. January 2007 saw French performing as the Duchesse de Crackentorp at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, in The Daughter of the Regiment (La fille du régiment) by Gaetano Donizetti. Soprano Natalie Dessay and tenor Juan Diego Flórez were the leads in the production. French returned to Covent Garden and La Fille du règiment in the 2010 revival.
She also portrayed Miss Forcibla/The other Miss Forcible in Coraline.
French was chosen as the face of Terry's Chocolate Orange, As of 29 August 2007, French had been dropped as the face of Terry's Chocolate Orange. The company stated "After such a long partnership we feel that the campaign has run its course and we are in the process of developing different work."
French has appeared in the videos to Alison Moyet's songs "Love Letters" (which also featured Saunders) in 1987 and "Whispering Your Name" in 1994. She also appeared in a Comic Relief version of the Spice Girls hit "Who Do You Think You Are" in 1997. In 1986 she appeared as a blonde in Kate Bush's music video entitled "Experiment IV".
French met Lenny Henry on the alternative comedy circuit. The couple married on 20 October 1984 in Covent Garden, London. They adopted a daughter, Billie. French has stated that Billie has always known that she was adopted, but once took out an injunction when a biographer came close to revealing the identity of Billie's biological mother. When faced with a question about how she and Henry would feel if Billie wanted to find out about her birth mother, French commented, "Whatever she wants to do when she's 18, we'll support her. What I do worry about is anyone else making the decision for her."
The couple had a property in Fowey, Cornwall. The £2.3 million mansion with 40 rooms overlooks Readymoney Cove and neighbouring Poldridmouth Cove, known as smugglers' cove. The grade II-listed building dates back to the 19th century.
On 6 April 2010, French and Henry announced they were separating after 25 years of marriage. It was reported that the separation was amicable. They had decided to separate in October the previous year but left it until then as they were still in discussion over the separation. Their divorce was finalised in 2010.
French began dating Mark Bignell in 2011. On 22 April 2013 it was reported that they had married.
Awards and recognition
French and Saunders won the honorary Golden Rose of Montreux award in 2002 and in 2003, she was listed in The Observer as one of the 50 funniest acts in British comedy. In a 2006 poll consisting of 4,000 people, French was named as the most admired female celebrity amongst women in Britain.
- 1989 – Nominated – BAFTA TV Award for Best Light Entertainment Performance in French and Saunders
- 1991 – Nominated – BAFTA TV Award for Best Light Entertainment Performance in French and Saunders
- 1998 – Nominated – BAFTA TV Award for Best Comedy Performance in The Vicar of Dibley
- 2000 – Nominated – BAFTA TV Award for Best Comedy Performance in The Vicar of Dibley
- 2001 – Nominated – BAFTA TV Award for Best Comedy Performance in The Vicar of Dibley
- 2007 – Nominated – BAFTA TV Award for Best Comedy Performance in The Vicar of Dibley
- 2009 – Won – BAFTA Fellowship – awarded with Jennifer Saunders
- 2011 – Nominated – BAFTA Best Female Performance in a Comedy Role in Roger and Val Have Just Got In
British Comedy Awards
- 1997 – Won – British Comedy Award for Best TV Comedy Actress in The Vicar of Dibley
- 1998 – Nominated – British Comedy Award for Best TV Comedy Actress in The Vicar of Dibley
- 2011 – Nominated – British Comedy Awards for Best TV Comedy Actress in Psychoville
National Television Awards
- 1998 – Nominated – National Television Award for Most Popular Comedy Performer in The Vicar of Dibley
- 2000 – Nominated – National Television Award for Most Popular Comedy Performer in The Vicar of Dibley
- 2002 – Nominated – National Television Award for Most Popular Comedy Performance in Ted and Alice
- 2003 – Nominated – National Television Award for Most Popular Comedy Performance in Wild West
- 1991 – Won – Writers' Guild of Great Britain Award for TV- Light Entertainment in French and Saunders
- 2001 – Along with Jennifer Saunders, declined an OBE.
- 2002 – Won – Rose d'Or Light Entertainment Festival Award shared with Jennifer Saunders
|1982||The Comic Strip|
|1982||Five Go Mad in Dorset|
|1983||Five Go Mad on Mescaline|
|1982–84||The Young Ones|
|1985–86||Girls on Top|
|1987–2007||French and Saunders||Various|
|1991–99||Murder Most Horrid||W.P.C. Diane Softly
|1993–95||The Legends of Treasure Island||Jim Hawkins|
|1994–2007||The Vicar of Dibley||Geraldine Granger|
|1997||Sex & Chocolate|
|1999||Let Them Eat Cake||Lisette|
|2002||Ted and Alice|
|2006, 2008–09||Jam and Jerusalem||Rosie|
|2006||Dawn French's Girls Who Do Comedy||Herself|
|Little Britain Abroad||Shelly Pollard|
|The Meaning of Life|
|Dawn French's Boys Who Do Comedy||Herself|
|2008, 11||Lark Rise to Candleford||Caroline Arless|
|2009||The Paul O'Grady Show||Guest Host|
|2010–12||Roger & Val Have Just Got In||Val Stevenson|
|2013—||Australia's Got Talent||Judge|
|2013||The Wrong Mans||Linda Bourne|
|1993–94||Me and Mamie O'Rourke||Stand Theatre, London|
|When I was a Girl I used to Scream and Shout|
|All Soul's Night||Lyric Theatre, London|
|Side By Side|
|2001||A Midsummer Night's Dream|
|2003||My Brillian Divorce|
|2005||Smaller||Lyric Theatre, London|
|2007||La fille du régiment||Lyric Theatre, London|
|1987||Eat the Rich|
|1996||The Adventures of Pinocchio|
|2004||Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban||The Fat Lady|
|2005||The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe||Mrs Beaver (voice only)|
|2006||Love and Other Disasters|
|2009||Coraline||Miss Miriam Forcible (voice only)|
|2010||Animals United||Angie (voice only)|
- A Tiny Bit Marvellous (Penguin, 2010)
- Oh Dear Silvia (Penguin, 2012)
- Dear Fatty (Arrow, 2007)
- Girls on Top (with Jennifer Saunders and Ruby Wax) (HarperCollins, 1986)
- A Feast of French and Saunders (with Jennifer Saunders) (Mandarin, 1992)
- Big Knits: Bold, Beautiful, Designer Knitwear (with Sylvie Soudan) (Ebury, 1990)
- Great Big Knits: Over Twenty Designer Patterns (with Sylvie Soudan) (Trafalgar Square, 1993)
- Frigid Women by Sue and Victoria Riches (with a foreword by Dawn French) (Eye Books Direct, 1996)
- Cruising by Beryl Cook (with a foreword by Dawn French) (Victor Gollancz, 2000)
- "Dawn French: I just had a lot of fun" Manchester Evening News. Retrieved 11 May 2007.
- Births, Marriages and Deaths Index – England & Wales
- Dawn French bio dawnfrench.tripod.com. Retrieved 2 June 2007.
- "Farewell French and Saunders" The Times (UK). Retrieved 30 August 2007.
- "We know how to use our mighty weight and the power of a full and voluptuous body" Daily Telegraph. (UK). Retrieved 6 December 2007.
- Dawn French – screenonline.org.uk. Retrieved 10 May 2007.
- "What are you looking at?" The Guardian. Retrieved 5 October 2007.
- "Dawn French moves to Cornwall to die" The Times (UK). Retrieved 6 December 2007.
- "Dawn French's £1.5m memoirs" The Times (UK). Retrieved 4 April 2007.
- "Catherine Tate profile" BBC. Retrieved 26 May 2007.
- Dibley's Farewell is ratings hit" BBC. Retrieved 8 March 2007.
- Weekly Viewing Summary. W.e 26/08/07 — barb.co.uk. Retrieved 5 September 2007.
- Model Moss joins Little Britain" news.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 4 June 2007.
- Lark Rise To Candleford" BBC. Retrieved 30 December 2007.
- Dawn French Little Crackers
-  "Comedian Dawn French to be judge on Channel Nine revamped Australia's Got Talent series", NEWS.com.au. Retrieved 18 March 2013.
- Dawn French takes Potter role" news.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 23 May 2007.
- "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe". Digital Spy. Retrieved 8 September 2007.
- Dawn French to make opera debut" news.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 23 May 2007.
- The hard sell" The Guardian. Retrieved 31 August 2007.
- Dawn French dropped from chocolate ads" Digital Spy. Retrieved 6 September 2007.
- "Dawn French: The French connection" The Independent (UK). Retrieved 13 December 2007.
- "What will happen to Lenny and Dawn's Cornish retreat?". findaproperty.com. 8 April 2010. Retrieved 7 February 2012.
- Thorpe, Vanessa (14 February 2010). "Parties in pre-election battle to sign up stars". The Guardian (London).
- Millar, Paul (6 April 2010). "Lenny Henry and Dawn French to separate". Digital Spy. Retrieved 6 April 2010.
- "Lenny Henry and Dawn French split". BBC. 6 April 2010. Retrieved 6 April 2010.
- "Comedian Dawn French marries for second time". BBC Online. 22 April 2013. Retrieved 22 April 2013.
- David Beckham, Dawn French named top idols" Digital Spy. Retrieved 8 September 2007.
- BBC Radio 4, Woman's Hour Power list
- British Academy of Film and Television Arts Fellowship presented on Sunday 26 April 2009.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Dawn French.|
- Dawn French at the Internet Movie Database
- Biography at the Museum of Broadcast Communications
- French and Saunders