Dawn French (born 11 October 1957) is a British comedienne and actress best known as one half of the comic duo French & Saunders, the other half being Jennifer Saunders of Absolutely Fabulous fame.
French was born in Holyhead, Wales. Her parents were childhood sweethearts from Devon, and her father, Denys, who was in the Royal Air Force, was at that time stationed in Wales. She was educated at boarding school in Plymouth. She first came to public attention as a member of The Comic Strip — part of the alternative comedy scene in the early 1980s. Here she met her future husband Lenny Henry, with whom she has an adopted daughter. A successful television series French and Saunders followed in 1987. Her first post-Saunders project was Murder Most Horrid, a dark comedy satire of murder mysteries.
Her biggest solo television role to date has been as the title figure in the long running BBC comedy The Vicar of Dibley, created by Richard Curtis. Since finishing The Vicar of Dibley, she starred in the BBC sitcom Wild West, in which she plays a woman living in Cornwall who is a lesbian more through lack of choice than any specific natural urge. This series was not met with as much success as her earlier role.
She played the “Fat Lady” in the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, replacing the less well-known actress, Elizabeth Spriggs, who had played the character in the first film of the series.
As a particularly large woman, she is known for her efforts to promote the notion that big can be beautiful. As part of this she has her own line of clothes, Sixteen 47, deriving its name from the statistic that 47% of the British female population are at least a size 16. It aims to produce clothes that larger women can look beautiful in. For her large size and admitted chocoholism, she was chosen as the face of the confection, Terry’s Chocolate Orange using the slogan “It’s not Terry’s, it’s mine.”
In 2001, both she and Saunders declined an OBE. In 2003, she was listed in The Observer as one of the 50 funniest acts in British comedy. In 2005 French provided the voice for the character, Mrs. Beaver in Disney and Walden Media’s film adaptation of C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
In 2002, Dawn French appeared in the comedy/drama mini-series Ted and Alice. Other cast members included Stephen Tompkinson, Eleanor Bron and David Troughton.