Skip to main content

Dawn French — things you might not know about the comedy legend

Dawn French
Dawn French has come a long way since her TV debut in 1981. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Comic star Dawn French needs little introduction to UK TV viewers. She is one half of trailblazing comedy duo French & Saunders and starred in one of the nation's most beloved sitcoms, The Vicar of Dibley.

The Welsh-born comic has a flawless TV CV, which began in the early 1980s in The Comic Strip and The Young Ones, before co-starring with Jennifer Saunders and Ruby Wax in sitcom Girls on Top, then making the first series of Absolutely Fabulous in 1992.

But how much do you know about Dawn?

Here are 7 things you might not know about comedy icon Dawn French...

Dawn didn’t like Jennifer Saunders when they first met!

They of course went on to form one of television’s greatest ever comedy double acts, but they didn’t initially get on. Recalling their first meeting at London’s Central School of Speech and Drama, The Express reports Dawn once said: “I was horribly loud-mouthed and she was sort of snooty.”

Dawn French with Jennifer Saunders

Dawn with her great friend Jennifer Saunders, but their partnership took a while to form. (Image credit: David M. Benett)

Who did Dawn French marry after her divorce from Lenny Henry?

Dawn, who was married to Lenny Henry for 25 years before they divorced, tied the knot with her second husband, charity worker Mark Bignell, in 2013. And Dawn invited some famous names to the ceremony held in Cornwall, including singer Alison Moyet, Jennifer Saunders and The Vicar of Dibley creator Richard Curtis.

The Vicar of Dibley

Comedy classic! The Vicar of Dibley is loved by millions, but Dawn almost turned it down! (Picture: Alamy Stock Photo) (Image credit: Alamy Stock Photo)

She almost said ‘no’ to playing Geraldine in The Vicar of Dibley!

It’s impossible to imagine anyway else playing Geraldine Granger in the much-loved sitcom, however, Dawn once told Radio 4 she had doubts about taking the part. “I thought, ‘How on earth do you play a central character who’s so blooming good?’”

She added: “I thought, ‘Where are the flaws? Where is the monster in this woman?’ That’s what I understand comedy to be ... Alice was a very funny character from the off. But anyway, he [the show’s creator, Richard Curtis] wouldn’t let me play it.”

Alice was played by Emma Chambers, who died in 2018.

Dawn lost her father in her teens...

Dawn was 19 when her father, Denys, took his own life. Speaking to The Big Issue, Dawn said: “It was a giant trauma. I was angry, confused, bewildered, sad, blaming all the wrong people, including myself. But as time has gone on I’ve learned about mental health, and understood that if my dad had perhaps lived in a time when he didn’t feel so ashamed of his depression, it might have been very different.”

Dawn lost her father in her teens...

Dawn was 19 when her father, Denys, took his own life. Speaking to The Big Issue, Dawn said: “It was a giant trauma. I was angry, confused, bewildered, sad, blaming all the wrong people, including myself. But as time has gone on I’ve learned about mental health, and understood that if my dad had perhaps lived in a time when he didn’t feel so ashamed of his depression, it might have been very different.”

Dawn was a judge on Australia’s Got Talent...

Yep, Dawn was a judge alongside Spice Girl Geri Halliwell on the 2013 series of Australia’s Got Talent. In a chat with ITV’s Lorraine Kelly, Dawn said at the time that she’d enjoyed some great acts, but not all of them were to her taste! “We saw some scary things like pigs and people picking up breeze blocks with their nipples!”

MORE: 7 things you didn't know about comedy star David Jason

What is Dawn's next big role?

Dawn’s last roles of note were her celebrated performance as Beatrix Potter in 2020’s Christmas drama Roald & Beatrix: The Tale of the Curious Mouse and playing Bowers in Kenneth Branagh's Death on the Nile. Up next is a starring role in an animated film for Netflix, The Magician’s Elephant, based on Kate DiCamillo’s novel of the same name. It's not known what Dawn's voice role will be.

When did Dawn French become an author?

Dawn’s debut novel, A Tiny Bit Marvellous, was published to widespread acclaim in 2010. “It’s basically about a family called The Battles,” Dawn explained at the time. “There’s four of them — mum, dad, daughter and son and a dog called Poo and everybody is operating in their own bubbles and basically because they’re not connecting with each other, they are hurtling towards a big meltdown. And there’s some danger in it and a twist…” 

Her last novel, Because of You, was nominated for the Women's Prize for Fiction and was a bestseller. 

Dawn French’s Fact File

Some of the most common questions about the comedy legend...

How old is Dawn French?

Dawn is 64 and was born on Oct 11, 1957.

Is Dawn French in a relationship?

In 2013 Dawn married Mark Bignell, who founded the drug and alcohol rehabilitiation centre, Hamoaze House, in Cornwall with her late mother.

Does Dawn French have children?

She has an adopted daughter, Billie, now 31, from her marriage to Lenny Henry.

Where was Dawn born?

Dawn was born in Holyhead, Wales.

How tall is Dawn?

Dawn is 1.52m (5ft) tall.

Dawn French’s social media:

Twitter: @dawn_french
Instagram: @dawnrfrench
Facebook: @dawnfrenchofficial

We work hard to ensure that all information is correct. Facts that change over time, such as age, will be correct, to the best of our knowledge, at the time of the last article update.

David is the What To Watch Editor and has over 20 years of experience in television journalism. He is currently writing about the latest television and film news for What To Watch.


Before working for What To Watch, David spent many years on TV Times magazine, interviewing some of television's most famous stars including Hollywood actor Kiefer Sutherland, singer Lionel Richie and wildlife legend Sir David Attenborough. 


David started out as a writer on TV Times before becoming the title's deputy features editor and then features editor. During his time on TV Times, David also helped run the annual TV Times Awards. David is a huge Death in Paradise fan, although he's still failed to solve a case before the show's detective! He also loves James Bond and controversially thinks that Timothy Dalton was an excellent 007.


Other than watching and writing about telly, David loves playing cricket, going to the cinema, trying to improve his tennis and chasing about after his kids!