Dawn Roma French (born 11 October 1957) is an English actress, writer, and comedian, best known for starring in and writing for the comedy sketch show French and Saunders with comedy partner Jennifer Saunders and for playing the lead role asGeraldine Granger in the sitcom The Vicar of Dibley. French has been nominated for seven BAFTA Awards and also won a Fellowship BAFTA with Jennifer Saunders.
French was born in Holyhead, Anglesey, Wales to English parents, Denys Vernon French (5 August 1932 – 11 September 1977),and Felicity Roma French (née O’Brien) who married in their hometown of Plymouth in 1953. She was educated at the independent St Dunstan’s Abbey School (now absorbed by Plymouth College). She has a brother, Gary (born 1955). Her father, Denys 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, she attended Caistor Grammar School in Caistor, Lincolnshire, boarding in the school’s Lindsey house. She later won a debating scholarship that brought her to study at the Spence School in New York.
French has claimed 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.” He had a history of severe depression and attempted suicides but managed to conceal his illness from Dawn and her brother.
She studied at the Central School of Speech and Drama in 1977, 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. At first, as far as Saunders was concerned, French was a “cocky little upstart”. French considered Saunders 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 she broke up with her fiancé, David Smyth, a former Royal Navy officer. After they graduated, they formed 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 ofthe Comic Strip, part of the alternative comedy scene in the early 1980s.
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.
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