Francesca Martinez

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Francesca Martinez (born 1978) is an English comedian, writer and actress. She has cerebral palsy, but prefers to describe herself as "wobbly".[1] Martinez first came to public attention in 1994, when she made her debut on the television series Grange Hill, where she went on to portray the role of Rachel Burns for a total of 55 episodes. Later turning her focus to stand-up comedy, she has performed at the Edinburgh Festival and internationally, including the Melbourne Comedy Festival, the Adelaide Fringe Festival, the Perth Festival and the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal. In 2018 she completed a 140-date tour, and has had off-West End London runs at the Tricycle Theatre, the Hackney Empire, and the Soho Theatre. Martinez's debut play, All of Us, was scheduled to be performed at the National Theatre in 2019, but was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[2]

Early life[edit]

Francesca Martinez was born in London to a Spanish father and half-Swedish, half-English mother in 1978.[3] She was diagnosed with cerebral palsy aged two.[4][5] Martinez was also declared intellectually disabled by a consultant physician, but her parents chose for her to be educated at an integrated school, an experience that Martinez enjoyed.[5] She later attended an all-girls' high school[6], an experience that harmed her previously good self-esteem.[4] She was 14 when she secured a role on the series Grange Hill.[7]


A year after she began performing stand-up comedy,[4] in 2000, Martinez became the first female comic to win the prestigious Daily Telegraph Open Mic Award at the Edinburgh Festival.[6] She performed her debut solo show, I'm Perfect, in 2002.[3]

In 2003 she was listed in The Observer as one of the 50 funniest acts in British comedy.[citation needed]

Martinez has performed in many countries including Australia, Canada, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, as well as the United States, performing at Caroline's on Broadway, 92YTribeca and the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater (all in New York City), and the Laugh Factory and the Comedy Store (both in Los Angeles). She also performed at the 2008 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland with Emma Thompson.

Her most recent tour WHAT THE **** IS NORMAL?! clocked up over 140 dates around the world – winning a Fringe Media Network Award at the Edinburgh Fringe, as well as being nominated for Best Show at Dave's Leicester Comedy Festival and at the Perth Festival, Australia.

She has organised many charity shows featuring comedians such as Frankie Boyle, Mark Steel, Robin Ince, Jo Brand, Johnny Vegas, Al Murray, Richard Herring, Stewart Lee, Jeremy Hardy, Lee Mack, Mark Thomas, Rhod Gilbert and Milton Jones.[citation needed]

In 2014, her best-selling book WHAT THE **** IS NORMAL?! was published by Random House to critical acclaim. It was nominated for the Chortle Comedy 'Best Book' Award and The Bread And Roses Radical Publishing Award. She was described as one of 'Britain's Five Funniest Women' in The Guardian in November 2014, along with Bridget Christie, Sara Pascoe, Katherine Ryan and Susan Calman.[8]

In 2016, she supported Frankie Boyle on his sell-out UK tour.

Television and radio[edit]

Before becoming a comedian, Martinez appeared in the BBC children's drama series Grange Hill from 1994–1998, where she played the first disabled pupil to appear in the fictional school,[9] and has acted in other drama series such as Holby City.

In August 2005 she appeared in the BBC sitcom Extras.[10]

In April 2008 Martinez made global headlines when (live on Channel 4 News) she became the first Olympic torch bearer to pull out of the London relay in protest over China's treatment of Tibet.[11]

In April 2009 she appeared on the BBC Radio 4 stand-up comedy show, 4 Stands Up.[12] In 2015, she opened series 11 of Live At The Apollo, which also featured Alan Carr and Nish Kumar.

In October 2012 she made her debut appearance on BBC Radio 4's topical panel show The News Quiz, alongside regulars Jeremy Hardy and Sandi Toksvig. She appeared on The News Quiz again in January and July 2013.

Martinez has become a regular face on television, including appearances on The Frank Skinner Show, Russell Howard's Good News (BBC Three), The Jonathan Ross Show, ITV's Loose Women, Free Speech (BBC3), RTÉ's The Saturday Night Show with Brendan O'Connor, Adam Hills Tonight, Spicks and Specks and Question Time on BBC1.

She has written scripts for the BBC and Channel 4. In 2018, her debut radio play How We're Loved aired on BBC Radio Four.


On 8 December 2012, Martinez launched a campaign War on Welfare[13] which pledged to get 100,000 supporters to sign a petition calling for an end to UK government cuts for disability benefits and an independent impact assessment of the government's welfare changes. The petition attracted 5,000 signatures in the first 48 hours[14] and achieved its target of 100,000 supporters on 30 November 2013.[15]

An outspoken opponent of welfare reform by the government, she uses her public profile to raise issues about disability and fight for what she believes would be a fairer system. Martinez said: "As a disabled person in the media, I want to help give this issue a voice. It's morally wrong for the government to target those in need instead of saving money by targeting the real causes of this crisis – and close tax loopholes and regulate the financial sector. To me, it's a human rights issue."[16]

She is patron of a number of charities.[17][18]

She has challenged the government in numerous TV interviews, including on Newsnight and This Week, and in other TV appearances such as Question Time.

In 2015 she helped organise This Changes Everything, a one-day event on climate and social justice, with Naomi Klein, Russell Brand, and many other speakers. The event was streamed globally and aimed to kick-start a movement to unify the left against climate change.

In 2013 she was nominated for a Women in Public Life Award, and won the Public Affairs Achiever of the Year Award. In April 2014 she was named as one of Britain's most influential women in the BBC Woman's Hour power list 2014.[19] She was also nominated for Red Magazine's Woman of the Year Award 2014 and for a European Diversity Hero of the Year Award 2014.

She has received honorary doctorates from the Open University and Bradford University.

In July 2015, Martinez endorsed Jeremy Corbyn's campaign in the Labour Party leadership election.[20] In 2016, along with other celebrities, Martinez toured the UK to support Corbyn's bid to become Prime Minister.[21][22] In September 2016, she performed at the Keep Corbyn rally in Brighton in support of Corbyn's campaign in the Labour Party leadership election.[23]

In November 2019, along with other public figures, Martinez signed a letter supporting Corbyn, describing him as "a beacon of hope in the struggle against emergent far-right nationalism, xenophobia and racism in much of the democratic world" and endorsed him in the 2019 UK general election.[24] In December 2019, along with 42 other leading cultural figures, she signed a letter endorsing the Labour Party under Corbyn's leadership in the 2019 general election. The letter stated that "Labour's election manifesto under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership offers a transformative plan that prioritises the needs of people and the planet over private profit and the vested interests of a few."[25][26]


  1. ^ Bunbury, Stephanie (25 March 2003). "Wobbly but on the money". The Age. Retrieved 8 November 2009.
  2. ^ "All of Us". National Theatre. 7 November 2019. Retrieved 24 November 2021.
  3. ^ a b Dugan, Emily (8 November 2009). "Francesca Martinez: A wobbly girl's battle against the last taboo". The Independent. Retrieved 8 November 2009.
  4. ^ a b c "Francesca Martinez: "The fact that I'm wobbly and a woman terrifies TV commissioners"". New Statesman. 9 June 2021. Retrieved 24 November 2021.
  5. ^ a b "Comedian Francesca Martinez: 'I've accepted my cerebral palsy - now". The Independent. 6 August 2014. Retrieved 24 November 2021.
  6. ^ a b "Francesca Martinez: 'I was viewed as uncool because of how my body worked'". the Guardian. 14 March 2020. Retrieved 24 November 2021.
  7. ^ "My best teacher: Francesca Martinez". Tes. Retrieved 24 November 2021.
  8. ^ "Clowning around: five of Britain's funniest women". the Guardian. 30 November 2014. Retrieved 24 November 2021.
  9. ^ "Education: Real-life struggles of a TV pupil: Bridgette Lawrence on". The Independent. 20 January 1994. Retrieved 24 November 2021.
  10. ^ List of Extras episodes#Series 1 .282005.29
  11. ^ Correspondent, Ashling O’Connor, Olympics. "Torch bearer withdraws from Olympics relay in Tibet protest". ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 24 November 2021.
  12. ^ "BBC Radio 4 – 4 Stands Up". BBC. 7 May 2009. Retrieved 20 January 2013.
  13. ^ "Martinez brings star quality to fresh assault on coalition's 'war on welfare' – Disability in the News". The Fed Online. Archived from the original on 4 December 2013. Retrieved 21 January 2013.
  14. ^ "Welfare petition aims for ten thousand backers by New Year's Day". Ekklesia. Retrieved 20 January 2013.
  15. ^ Robson, Steve (30 November 2013). "100,000 sign War on Welfare petition asking for assessment of cuts to the sick and disabled".
  16. ^ "Disability Information Scotland". Archived from the original on 23 April 2013.
  17. ^ "Francesca Martinez – Personally Speaking Bureau". Retrieved 16 May 2016.
  18. ^ "Our Team – Contact a Family". Archived from the original on 4 June 2016. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
  19. ^ "Woman's Hour Power List 2014 – Game Changers". BBC Radio 4.
  20. ^ Bush, Stephen (29 July 2015). "25 campaign groups and activists back Jeremy Corbyn for Labour leader". New Statesman. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  21. ^ "#JC4PM". jc4pmtour. 28 July 2015. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  22. ^ Wilkinson, Michael (1 February 2016). "Celebrities to tour Britain in 'Jeremy Corbyn For Prime Minister' musical show". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  23. ^ Burke, Darren (26 August 2016). "TV star comedians line up for Jeremy Corbyn rally in Doncaster". Doncaster Free Press. Doncaster. Retrieved 1 June 2018.
  24. ^ Neale, Matthew (16 November 2019). "Exclusive: New letter supporting Jeremy Corbyn signed by Roger Waters, Robert Del Naja and more". NME. Retrieved 27 November 2019.
  25. ^ "Vote for hope and a decent future". The Guardian. 3 December 2019. Retrieved 4 December 2019.
  26. ^ Proctor, Kate (3 December 2019). "Coogan and Klein lead cultural figures backing Corbyn and Labour". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 December 2019.

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