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Dawn French opens up about “huge impact” of her dad’s suicide

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Kayleigh Dray
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During a recent appearance on Fearne Cotton’s Happy Place, Dawn French has spoken frankly about her father’s suicide – and the impact it had upon her.

Earlier this week, Fearne Cotton launched her very own podcast series, Happy Place, which sees the presenter sit down with inspiring individuals to find a different way of looking at life.

During the first episode (5 March), Cotton was joined by Dawn French, who opened up about how the death of her father affected her life, the process she went through to adopt a child, the surprising beginnings of Absolutely Fabulous and her plans for the future with Jennifer Saunders.

“You’d been through a massively rocky time having to experience your dad’s suicide and the huge impact it had on your life,” said Cotton.

“Do you think it’s had any bearing on how you make decisions, being morbidly aware of life being very short and very delicate?”

French took a moment to consider her response, before admitting that losing her father at such a young age (she was just 19 at the time) essentially convinced her that she, too, “wouldn’t make old bones”.

“It made me think, oh god, maybe we don’t live very long,” she admitted. “But I was aware that I needed to get old enough to grow my daughter in to her twenties at least. That then she’d manage without me after that. I was thinking like that which is ridiculous.

“I recently turned 60, though, and I definitely now have a completely different attitude. I don’t know if it’s just crept up on me or something, I don’t know if I’m maybe bit happier, I don’t even know what it is. But I now want to make old bones… and will be very furious if I don’t!”

French added: “I am definitely making the best of every minute if I can… although having said that, making the best of every minute is sometimes being very quiet.”

French, who adopted her daughter, Billie, with her former partner, also explained to Cotton that it was best friend Jennifer Saunders was the one who made her dreams of motherhood come true. Not only did her “comedy wife” give a glowing character reference to adoption services, but Saunders also made it possible for French to step out of the limelight to welcome her daughter into her life.

Ab Fab only came along because I stepped aside to have Billie in a secret way, and Jennifer stepped up and took the studios that were booked for French and Saunders…

“I said, ‘Jen, a baby has arrived’. And she said, ‘right, go, go, I’ll do something’.”

French continued: “Just the previous year we’d done a sketch of a mother and daughter that we’d enjoyed doing it and she was particularly good at. And, in fact, it was one of the longest sketches we’d ever done because we enjoyed it so much.”

Saunders turned the sketch into Ab Fab, which went on to become one of the most successful British comedies of all time.

“She was covering for me like a good sister,” reflected French, “but then she had the audacity to go and make a really good show without me, so that was very selfish!

“I was at home having my dream come true, which was this baby arriving in my life, but also having to witness her being rather good on her own!”

To hear the interview in full, be sure to listen to Dawn French’s interview on Fearne Cotton’s Happy Place, available on Apple Podcasts now.

Image: Rex Features

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is editor of Stylist.co.uk, where she chases after rogue apostrophes and specialises in films, comic books, feminism and television. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends. 

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