Dawn Roma French
11 October 1957
|Alma mater||Central School of Speech and Drama|
|French and Saunders|
The Vicar of Dibley
2009 (with Jennifer Saunders)
Dawn Roma French (born 11 October 1957) is a British actress, comedian, presenter and writer. She is best known for starring in and writing for the BBC comedy sketch show French and Saunders with her best friend and comedy partner, Jennifer Saunders, and for playing the lead role as Geraldine Granger in the BBC sitcom The Vicar of Dibley. She has been nominated for seven BAFTA TV Awards and won a BAFTA Fellowship with Saunders in 2009.
Dawn Roma French was born on 11 October 1957 in Holyhead, Wales, to English parents Felicity Roma (née O'Brien; 1934 – 2012) and Denys Vernon French (5 August 1932 – 11 September 1977), who married in their home town of Plymouth in 1953. She has an older brother, Gary (born 1955). Her father served in the Royal Air Force, stationed at RAF Valley. The RAF partly funded her private education. When her father was stationed at the former RAF Faldingworth, French attended Caistor Grammar School in Caistor for one year. She then attended boarding school at St Dunstan's Abbey School for Girls in Plymouth, where she was a member of Downton house. After graduating, she spent a year studying at the Spence School in New York, due to a debating scholarship she won whilst attending boarding school.
French has said that her self-confidence and self-belief stem 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." Denys had a history of severe depression and made two suicide attempts, but managed to conceal his illness from Dawn and Gary. When French was nineteen years old, her father committed suicide by car exhaust.
In 1977, French began studying drama at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, 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. Saunders recalled her first perception of French was that she was a "cocky little upstart"; French considered Saunders to be 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. While at college, French broke up with her fiancé, a former Royal Navy officer. After French and Saunders graduated from the Royal Central School, they decided to form 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 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 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 and, in addition to French and Saunders, showcased Comic Strip performers Peter Richardson, Rik Mayall, Nigel Planer, 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 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. 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 both. In 2002, French appeared in the comedy/drama mini-series Ted and Alice. In the series, set in the Lake District, French played a tourist information officer who falls in love with an alien. She appeared once in the Saunders led sitcom Absolutely Fabulous as TV interviewer Kathy in 1992, a parody of Lorraine Kelly, she reprised that role for Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie in 2016 as a more established veteran journalist as Kelly is now. She also appeared in the BBC sitcom Wild West, with Catherine Tate, in which she played a woman living in Cornwall who is 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 for her. She stars as Geraldine Granger, a vicar of a small fictional village called Dibley. An audience of 12.3 million watched the final full-length episode to see her character's marriage ceremony. She appeared on The Vicar of Dibley with Damian Lewis in a mini-episode made for Comic Relief in 2013. 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. Although the main series ended in 2007, the show has returned for numerous short special episodes since, the latest four of which aired in December 2020.
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, Jennifer Saunders (who also created and wrote the series) and Joanna Lumley. She made a guest appearance in Little Britain as Vicky Pollard's mother. 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 appeared in Agatha Christie's Marple in the 2006 episode "Sleeping Murder". She 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." In late 2010, French starred in Roger & Val Have Just Got In with actor Alfred Molina, which aired for two series.
French appeared in Little Crackers, short comedy films which were broadcast over Christmas in 2010.
French appeared as a special guest on Michael Bublé's Home For Christmas in December 2011. In July 2012, she was a judge in ITV's Superstar live shows. In March 2013, it was announced that French would replace Brian McFadden on the judging panel of Nine Network's Australia's Got Talent alongside Kyle Sandilands, Geri Halliwell (who replaced Dannii Minogue) and Timomatic who is the additional fourth judge. French departed the show after one series and was replaced by Kelly Osbourne.
From 2016 until 2019 French starred in three series of Delicious on Sky 1, co-starring as a talented cook who is having an affair with her celebrity chef ex-husband (Iain Glen) who has remarried and started a successful hotel business with his new wife (Emilia Fox) in Cornwall.
Film and theatre
In 1996 French appeared in The Adventures of Pinocchio as "The Baker's Wife" alongside Martin Landau and star Jonathan Taylor Thomas. French 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 English dub of the German-British environmental animated film Animals United.
She has also taken roles in the theatre. French has appeared in plays such as A Midsummer Night's Dream, My Brilliant Divorce, and Smaller, the latter of which she played 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 starring Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Flórez. French returned to Covent Garden and La Fille du règiment in the 2010 revival.
In 2014, French toured an autobiographical one woman show 30 Million Minutes in the UK and Oceania. The title is based on the amount of minutes she had been alive at the time of producing the show.
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. In 2017, Me. You. A Diary, French's second non-fiction book, was released. She has also written four novels – A Tiny Bit Marvellous (2010), Oh Dear Silvia (2012), According to Yes (2015) and Because of You (2020).
In 2019, French provided her voice for numerous Station indents for Greatest Hits Radio. This was produced in partnership with Bespoke Music.
She also appeared in two Comic Relief music videos. In 1989 she joined Jennifer Saunders and Kathy Burke to form Lananeeneenoonoo and, along with Bananarama, they created a charity single to raise money for Comic Relief. It was a cover version of The Beatles song "Help!", and was released on the London Records label, entering the UK Singles Chart on 25 February 1989 and reaching a high of #3. It remained in the chart for nine weeks.
French, Saunders and Burke returned for Comic Relief in 1997 as "The Sugar Lumps," along with Llewella Gideon and Lulu, to parody The Spice Girls, with whom they performed a version of "Who Do You Think You Are?".
French met comedian 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."
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 announcing it until some months later, as they were still in discussion over the separation. Their divorce was finalised later that year.
French began dating charity executive Mark Bignell in 2011. On 22 April 2013, it was reported that they had just married. The couple resided in Fowey, Cornwall, in a mansion overlooking Readymoney Cove. The grade II-listed building dates back to the 19th century. In May 2021 it was announced that Dawn had sold her Fowey property, and moved to an 1868 Gothic Revival property in Calstock.
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
- 2009 – Nominated – Annie Award for Voice Acting in a Feature Production for Coraline
|1982||The Comic Strip||Various Roles|
|1982||Five Go Mad in Dorset||George|
|1983||Five Go Mad on Mescaline||George|
|1982–84||The Young Ones||Insane Christian Woman/Mrs Easter Bunny/She-Devil|
|1985–86||Girls on Top||Amanda Ripley|
|1987||The Storyteller||Bad Sister||Episode: Sapsorrow|
|1987–2007||French and Saunders||Various Roles|
|1991–99||Murder Most Horrid||Various Roles||Anthology|
|1992||Absolutely Fabulous||Kathy (Interviewer)||Series 1, Episode 5 – "Magazine"|
|1993||Screen One||Elaine Dobbs||Episode: "Tender Loving Care"|
|1993||The Legends of Treasure Island||Jim Hawkins|
|1994||The Unpleasant World of Penn & Teller||Herself|
|1994–2020||The Vicar of Dibley||Geraldine Granger||Leading role; 2 series and 10 specials (20 episodes)|
|1997||Sex & Chocolate||Bev Bodger|
|1999||Let Them Eat Cake||Lisette|
|2000||French and Saunders Live||Various Roles|
|2002||Ted and Alice||Alice Putkin|
|2006||Agatha Christie's Marple: Sleeping Murder||Janet Erskine|
|2006, 2008–09||Jam & Jerusalem (Clatterford in the U.S.)||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, 2011||Lark Rise to Candleford||Caroline Arless|
|2009||The Paul O'Grady Show||Guest Host|
|2010–12||Roger & Val Have Just Got In||Val Stevenson|
|2013–14||Australia's Got Talent||Judge|
|2013–14||The Wrong Mans||Linda Bourne|
|2017–2018||Little Big Shots||Presenter||ITV talent show|
|2017||300 Years of French and Saunders||Various||BBC One Christmas special|
|2020||The Trouble with Maggie Cole||Maggie Cole||ITV series|
|2020||Cornwall Air 999||Narrator||Really TV Documentary series|
|2020||Roald & Beatrix: The Tail of the Curious Mouse||Beatrix Potter||TV Film|
|2021||RuPauls Drag Race UK||Guest Judge||BBC Three|
|1993–94||Me and Mamie O'Rourke||Stand Theatre, London|
|When I was a Girl I used to Scream and Shout||Whitehall Theatre, London|
|All Soul's Night||Lyric Theatre, London|
|Side By Side|
|2001||A Midsummer Night's Dream|
|2003||My Brilliant Divorce||Apollo Theatre, London|
|2005||Smaller||Lyric Theatre, London|
|2007||La fille du régiment||Royal Opera House, London|
|2014–||Thirty Million Minutes|
|2018–19||Snow White at the Palladium||London Palladium|
|1987||Eat the Rich||Debbie Draws|
|1996||The Adventures of Pinocchio||The Baker's Wife|
|1999||David Copperfield||Mrs. Crupp, landlady|
|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|
|2006||Love and Other Disasters||Therapist|
|2009||Coraline||Miss Miriam Forcible||Voice|
|2016||Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie||Kathy (Interviewer)||Also executive producer|
|2022||Death on the Nile||Mrs. Bowers||Post-production|
|TBA||The Magician's Elephant||TBA||Voice|
|2020||Sackboy: A Big Adventure||Scarlet||First video game role|
- A Tiny Bit Marvellous (Penguin, 2010)
- Oh Dear Silvia (Penguin, 2012)
- According to Yes (Penguin, 2015)
- Because of You (Michael Joseph, 2020)
- Dear Fatty (Arrow, 2007)
- Me. You. A Diary (Penguin, 2017)
- 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)
- Johnson, Amy (2 October 2019). "Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders reuniting for Kenneth Branagh's 'Death on the Nile' film". Yahoo. Retrieved 23 December 2019.
- Dawn French: "I just had a lot of fun" Archived 30 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine, Manchester Evening News. Retrieved 11 May 2007.
- "French & Saunders BAFTA Fellowship 2009". www.bafta.org. 28 December 2011. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
- Carpenter, Julie (24 April 2012). "Dawn French: I've lost the mum who inspired me". Daily Express.
- Births, Marriages and Deaths Index – England & Wales
- "Dawn French – introduction". 31 January 2000. Archived from the original on 31 January 2000.
- "Home Page – The TLS". Entertainment.timesonline.co.uk. Retrieved 20 September 2018.
- "Opinion". Telegraph.co.uk. 16 March 2016. Retrieved 20 September 2018.[dead link]
- "Dawn French: 'It was like a bomb went off in our family'". The Daily Telegraph. 16 May 2014. Archived from the original on 16 May 2014.
- Dawn French – screenonline.org.uk. Retrieved 10 May 2007.
- Decca Aitkenhead, "What are you looking at?", The Guardian, 19 June 2004; retrieved 5 October 2007.
- French, Dawn. (2009) . Dear Fatty. London: Arrow Books. ISBN 978-0-09-951947-8. OCLC 813008093.
- "BBC – Comedy – Ted and Alice". www.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
- "Catherine Tate profile" BBC. Retrieved 26 May 2007.
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- "BBC One – Jam and Jerusalem". BBC. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
- "Model Moss joins Little Britain" news.bbc.co.uk; retrieved 4 June 2007.
- "Agatha Christie's Marple – S2 – Episode 1: Sleeping Murder". Radio Times. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
- "Lark Rise To Candleford" BBC.co.uk; retrieved 30 December 2007.
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- "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe". Digital Spy. Retrieved 8 September 2007.
- Billington, Michael (24 March 2001). "Theatre review: A Midsummer Night's Dream". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
- "My Brilliant Divorce with Dawn French at Apollo from 14 Feb 03". London Theatre Guide. 8 June 2016. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
- "Smaller". London Theatre Guide. 8 June 2016. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
- "Dawn French to make opera debut", BBC News, 19 December 2006. Retrieved 23 May 2007.
- Hall, George (20 May 2010). "La Fille du Régiment | Opera review". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
- "Dawn French Live: 30 Million Minutes". ABC iview. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
- “Age-ulator app” Archived 18 March 2015 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved on iPhone 6plus 22 October 2014
- The hard sell" The Guardian. Retrieved 31 August 2007.
- Daniel Kilkelly, "Dawn French dropped from chocolate ads" Digital Spy, 30 August 2007; retrieved 6 September 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.
- French, Dawn. "A Tiny Bit Marvellous". www.penguin.co.uk. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
- French, Dawn. "Oh Dear Silvia". www.penguin.co.uk. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
- French, Dawn. "According to Yes". www.penguin.co.uk. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
- "Bananarama and Lananeeneenoonoo - Help". www.simplyeighties.com. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
- Sinclair, David, 1952– (2004). Wannabe : how the Spice Girls reinvented pop fame. London: Omnibus. ISBN 0-7119-8643-6. OCLC 64883763.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- "Dawn French: The French connection"[dead link] The Independent (UK). Retrieved 13 December 2007.
- "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.
- "Dawn French sells her Fowey mansion but is staying in Cornwall". 11 May 2021.
- "Dawn French named as Falmouth University chancellor", BBC News – Cornwall, 23 September 2014.
- "Dawn French talks Plymouth Argyle with football legend Arsene Wenger". Plymouth Herald. 17 October 2020. Retrieved 29 April 2021.
- Thorpe, Vanessa (14 February 2010). "Parties in pre-election battle to sign up stars". The Guardian. London, UK.
- Sawyer, Miranda (25 October 2020). "Dawn French: 'I feel genuine grief about what is going on in the arts'". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 January 2021.
- "David Beckham, Dawn French named top idols", Digital Spy. Retrieved 8 September 2007.
- Woman's Hour Power list, BBC Radio 4.
- British Academy of Film and Television Arts Fellowship, presented on Sunday 26 April 2009, bafta.org; accessed 25 June 2014. Archived 24 April 2009 at the Wayback Machine
- "Tender Loving Care" – via www.imdb.com.
- "Emilia Fox joins Dawn French's Delicious drama". BBC News. 4 August 2016.
- "Dawn French to host new ITV entertainment series". comedy.co.uk. 25 August 2016.
- "French and Saunders to reunite for BBC Christmas special". 19 September 2017 – via www.telegraph.co.uk.
- Singh, Anita (4 March 2020). "The Trouble with Maggie Cole, review: Dawn French's comedy drama is a curious cautionary tale against gossip – and booze". The Telegraph. Retrieved 5 March 2020.
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