Webchat with Dawn French
Comedian, actor and author Dawn French was our guest at MNHQ in November 2010. She was quizzed by Mumsnetters on many important topics, including who is her top celebrity snog, her favourite rude joke and why she and Jennifer Saunders turned down the OBE, plus just how she gets her hair so glossy? (Step one is 'grow hair', apparently!)
She also discussed her latest book, A Tiny Bit Marvellous, which is out now.
Misty164: You've just published your first novel, A Tiny Bit Marvellous. What inspired the title? And why did you shift from writing fact to fiction?
Dawn: The title comes from one of the characters, Peter, the son, who is channelling Oscar Wilde. I can't write any more fact because I've told the whole story of my life thus far so I have to make stories up which is called fiction (apparently).
nelix2000: I'm going to buy a copy of your new book - will you sign it for me?
Dawn: Will certainly sign it for you, if you turn up this Sunday, 7 November, at the Old Vic where I am doing an interview about the book with Sue Perkins. I'll also be doing exclusive readings. Tickets are available here.
OrangeAgate: Is your new book set in the present day or when you were growing up? Can you tell us more about it please?
Dawn: Set in the present day, it's about a family called the Battles who are (this is a problem I've had all alone - being concise about it!) all living in their own personal bubbles and not taking enough notice of each other. Whilst all of their eyes are off the ball, a big dangerous thing happens and so the family have to pull together to sort it out. This may sound quite serious! And although parts of it are, I hope it's funny, and a bit moving. FYI it also has quite a lot of sex and swearing in...
pixieonaleaf: When you were working with Darcey Bussell for the sketch show and Vicar of Dibley, how did you manage not to laugh? Actually, how did you manage to keep a straight face for any of the sketch show?
Dawn: When I was working with Darcey Bussel, I DID NOT manage not to laugh, in fact we laughed all the time, in fact, we wet our pants. Not very ballerina behaviour, I'm afraid, but I'm not ashamed, and I don't apologise.
picturethis: I love you in the Vicar of Dibley and the Christmas episode with the multiple Christmas dinners was pure genius. Any more specials planned, or has it been put to bed forever?
Dawn: Interestingly, I thought it was the end of the Vicar of Dibley, and we had a big wrap party at which I discovered that Richard Curtis, the writer, had asked for the set to be stored. So who knows. He always said that if women could be bishops, we might be talking business. So watch this space.
jonicomelately: I was wondering what your opinion is on the quality of television drama at the moment. It appears to me there is a depressing lack of 'in' for new writers. Is this due to commissioners being too nervous to take a chance on new talent?
Dawn: I think that when television drama is good, it's very good, I especially love American stuff. In answer to your comment about there being a depressing lack of 'in' for new writers, I would say that this has always been the case, and I have no solutions sadly. The problem is lack of budget, presently, I would say.
whatshallmynamebe: If you could be best friends in real life with any of your characters, who would it be?
Dawn: I definitely like Geraldine Granger, and she'd give good fridge. I would NOT be good friends with Mad Murderer from Misery.
poster: Did you do the 'puddle' scene in one take?
Dawn: Yes, the puddle scene was done in one take because the light was fading and I would have had to completely change clothes and there wasn't time. I didn't laugh beforehand because of fear - fear of drowning. The fear of drowning helps you to avoid fear of laughing. Also, for your information, had a very tiny secret wee.
loujay: Please can you tell me if you had your pick of potential husbands in Vicar of Dibley, and was the gorgeous Richard Armitage your first choice?
Dawn: Frankly, I did have the pick of potential husbands but I did ask for an older one - older than me that is. They told me Richard Armitage was 45. He was not! He was much younger, and when I found out I apologised to him for having to come to work and kiss an old lady every day. Mind you, he didn't seem that bothered. As Guy of Gisborne, by the way, he doesn't wear purely plastic or purely leather - he wears pleather.
Saltire: Which co-star/celebrity guest star did you most enjoy working with?
Dawn: Frankly, Jennifer Saunders. But if you need it to be more slebby than that, Jimmy Krankie.
ElephantsAndMiasmas: Dawn, you've had your fair share of celebrity snogs - who's your favourite?
Dawn: You might have thought it would be George Clooney, or Johnny Depp, or Brad Pitt, but it was actually Jamie Theakston. I was blindfolded at the time, leave it with you. No tongues, which was respectful for a first kiss.
Northernlight: What is your relationship with Jennifer Saunders now? Do you see her regularly?
Dawn: My relationship with Jennifer remains that of me as spectacularly talented, her as sinister stalker leech. And yes, saw her on Monday night, for tea. She has excellent new hair.
dillydallydolly: Have you ever worked with Victoria Wood? Would love to see it if you have.
Dawn: I have a very bad memory, but yes I have worked with Victoria Wood on a sketch for comic relief. Since I am in the pink fog of menopause, I can't remember when or where, or who... or what... or why. Sorry can't be more specific. I'm a woman of a certain age.
rosieposey: I was born in Plymouth like you and my mum went to the same school as you (albeit 55 years ago). Have you been back to the school to visit? Also do you prefer living in Cornwall or do you miss the South East?
Dawn: Hello Janner. Yes I have been to back to St Dunston's for a visit - it is now some flats, which must be a bit scary for the people who live there since it is built on a graveyard, as far as I know. And yes, I love living in Cornwall, I find it hard to leave.
Ellielou02: How do you relax?
Dawn: Don't do much relaxing at the mo, and that is a mistake. When given the chance, I would watch Dog the Bounty Hunter, and eat a pasty at the same time whilst in the bath - that would be perfect.
tanterosealiveandkicking: You have mentioned it several times in your book and interviews, but do you still think you are going to die young? Why?
Dawn: This was a misunderstanding when I told a journalist that I wanted to be carried out of my present house in a box. See how wrong it can go? Jokes don't translate in print sometimes! Planning to live as long as I can – cake allowing.
vinvinoveritas: My daughter died last year after two failed liver transplants, but I want to do something to raise money for the charity and as you are wise, wonderful and hilarious could you suggest what one thing I could do to raise money and I will do that?
Dawn: Sorry to hear that, how bloody awful. A great thing to do is an auction. Get twatty slebs like me to sign items for you to sell. But don't ask the slebs to turn up - because they just won't.
LeQueen: I'd like to ask, of what are you most proud?
Dawn: Sorry to be dull, but am definitely most of proud of daughter who is mad and dangerous but utterly loveable. Second thing I'm most proud of is chest.
jpg: Dawn, your dad committed suicide, so did mine, how did you explain it to your daughter? My children have asked about mine and at the moment we have just said that he was very ill - ie mental illness. It is something that bothers me greatly
Dawn: My dad committed suicide when I was 18, so my daughter wasn't around yet. I have since tried to explain it to her, and you're right, it's very difficult. But it's very important to be honest. I would definitely say that you should explain that depression is an illness, not just a sadness, because kids can get frightened by that otherwise. Good luck.
nowit: What made you and Jennifer decline the offer of an OBE? Did you agree about it?
Dawn: If I answered this I'd have to kill you. I didn't speak about it at the time and think it's best not to now. Suffice to say I'm holding out for the Damehood.
TheJollyPirate: What's the secret of your beautiful glossy hair?
Dawn: No big secret, my tips are as follows:
- Grow hair
- Cover old grey hair with dye
- Use straighteners
Presently using kerastase.
stigofthedump: What's your favourite bodily noise?
Dawn: Probably mastication when savouring chocolate cake, which I'm doing at this exact moment.
Mardybra: My mother-in-law made a sneaky, sarcastic comment about my weight last week. Do you have any good putdowns for people who don't appreciate the curves?
Dawn: "I can always lose weight if I wish, however you cannot gain brain cells."
bangingnoise: I've just seen a magazine in the supermarket that says you are back with your ex. Is that not Lenny then?
Dawn: Which magazine, and which ex? I hope it's not George Clooney. I've told him to get lost, he keeps defying me.
MmeLindt: I would like to know what particular moment of your career are you most proud of. If you were to write your own obituary which sketch or passage from a book should the BBC show?
Dawn: At this point in time, I'm most proud of Roger and Val Has Just Got In. Not sure what the second part means! Or, let's put it this way then, absolutely know for sure, that when dead, the Vicar of Dibley theme tune will be being played. Find this equally hilarious and dreadful. FYI, check out Bryn Terfel singing it - it's tip-top!
ruddynorah: I loved Roger and Val, and Psychoville. You are a very clever lady! What do you have lined up for the coming year?
Dawn: First of all I have to tell people about my new book, A Tiny Bit Marvellous, then I have to work with the writers of Roger and Val on the next series. Then I'm going to do a drama next year and going to write another novel (I think). Ooh, and I'm going to do some radio with Jennifer around Christmas.
NotShortImFunSized: Why don't you own a computer? Is it because you're scared you might get addicted to Mumsnet, and lose all powers to act, write and be funny ever again?
Dawn: That's partly it, but the main reason is because I don't want any other forms of communication in my life and do not wish to learn anything new. I have no need for information, on anybody, or anything.
BigHairyLeggedWerewolf: Has anyone asked the biscuit question yet? If not - what's your favourite biscuit Dawn?
Dawn: Don't be a fool - my favourite biscuit is of course the mighty Wagon Wheel...<<controversy in MNHQ ensues as Justine says it's a cake not a biscuit >> My definition of a biscuit is something you can insert whole into your mouth all at once.
tabouleh: Are you a feminist?
Dawn: I'd like to think so, but what I do know for sure is that I am female. And I challenge you to prove otherwise!
Reggiee: Could you tell me your favourite funniest joke?
Dawn: Ok here goes... it's in extremely poor taste so forgive: Old MacDonald had Tourette's - E I, E I, cock.
Last updated: 10 months ago