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
It’s unsurprising that the audience connects with the material, considering how it delves deep into her family life and sees French recounting stories about her parents, grandparents and friends. There is humour and there is sadness; she touches on the death of her father, who took his own life when she was 18.
She has “never been afraid of tackling stuff”, she says. “I’m at the age now where I’m pretty unafraid of talking about anything, really.”
How do you go about researching a show about your own life? French says that it was mostly a matter of checking with her friends and family mentioned in the show – including her ex-husband.
“Everybody understands that it’s a positive show, I’m not up there to slag anybody off, and I wouldn’t; I’ve got nothing bad to say. Life’s too short for all the bad stuff,” she says, shrugging.
‘A little bit of anger’“I reserve a little bit of anger and rant for somebody who’s pissed me off in my life, who happens to be a journalist, sadly [journalist Alison Bowyer threatened to reveal the identity of her daughter Billie’s birth mother without her permission]. But I manage to have a nice bellow about that, and I feel lighter about it every night.
“It’s therapeutic in a way, but that’s not my reason for doing it . . . Other things I talk about, like being bullied about my weight over the years and stuff like that [when you hear the audiencereact], you just think Yeah, this is unacceptable, isn’t it? And as soon as I talk about it that way, it’s empowering for me.”
Happier memories are of her first meeting with Jennifer Saunders – the woman she still affectionately refers to as “Fatty” – at drama school in London in the late 1970s.
“We didn’t really get on, at first,” she recalls. “We were very different – she’s much posher than me and we were in a different group of people. And then we ended up living in the same flat and of course, within days I realised how much I was going to have a great time with her. Of course we didn’t have a career planned; we just enjoyed each other’s company and made each other laugh a lot. The career was a sort of happy accident, really.”
Stage work aside, French has had enormous success with the long-running BBC sitcom The Vicar of Dibley, created by Richard Curtis, which ran from 1994 to 2007. She is open to playing the lead in another sitcom in the future.