Dawn French talks 30 million miles a minute

She might have been a mainstay of British comedy for the past 30 years, but Dawn French has never done a solo show – until now

Up close and personal: Dawn French’s solo show delves deep into her family life

Up close and personal: Dawn French’s solo show delves deep into her family life

Sat, Jul 5, 2014, 01:00

Where do you start with Dawn French? She is a stand-up comedian, an actor, a bestselling novelist – recently, even a TV talent show judge on Australia’s Got Talent. She is also a mother (to Billie, the 23-year-old daughter she adopted with ex-husband Lenny Henry), a daughter, a sister, and, since last April, a wife once again, after marrying charity worker Mark Bignell.

Although she been a mainstay on the British comedy scene for the last 30 years, she has never undertaken a solo stand-up show – until now. Thirty Million Minutes sees French cast a retrospective eye over the people, places and events that have led her to where she is today. The title is a reference to the time that she’s been alive (56 years is a somewhat less daunting way of expressing it).

“It’s interesting, isn’t it?” she says, bubbly, friendly and presumably buoyed from the positive reviews that the show has received so far. “I think I realised that people would already know the public part of my story, whereas I’m being a bit more personal in this show. And although I’ve written an autobiography before [2008’s epistolary Dear Fatty], I’ve had quite a lot of life since then and I’ve made quite a lot of changes. Plus, there are things that I couldn’t say in there that I can say now; things that I think I’ve learned and questions that I still have and answers I’m looking for. So I share all of that with the audience.

“I’m 56 now, and my friend Rik Mayall just died at age 56. Obviously I started writing the show long before I knew any of that, but it just goes to show that you’ve got to savour every moment. So I thought, well, I’m 56, if I’m going to do a one-woman show, when am I going to do it? Come on, let’s get going. So I put this year aside to do it and here I am.”

After spending so many years touring as part of a comedy duo with Jennifer Saunders, she admits that the prospect of not having someone to share a stage with was initially daunting. “Utterly terrifying; I couldn’t eat, which is very rare for me,” she chuckles. “My husband said that he had never seen the look on my face that he saw when he walked into the dressing room half an hour before the very first night in Sheffield.

“But the minute I stepped on to the stage and felt the connection with the audience, I thought, Oh yes, of course, this is what it is. When you get that fantastic wave of goodwill from an audience, it’s great. I’m like an animal, I’m absolutely greedy for that.”