Authors: Dawn French
26. Dear Parents of everyone I ever babysat for
28. Dear Big Nikki, Little Nicky, Angie, Jane and Patsy
29. Dear pioneering all-female US rock band FANNY
46. Calling all members of the Lazy Susans
54. Dear whomsoever it may concern
With a sharp eye for comic detail and wicked ear for the absurdities of life, Dawn French shows just how an RAF girl from the west country with dreams of becoming a ballerina/air hostess/bridesmaid rose to be one of the best loved comedy actresses of our time.
Here Dawn French shares her story, and in particular with her father who committed suicide when she was nineteen years old. She invites us into her most personal relationships with, among others, her mum and dad, her husband, her daughter and her friend Jennifer.
Dawn reveals the people, experiences and obsessions that have influenced her and that helped shape her comedy creations – including kissing, dogs, grandmas, David Cassidy, teenage angst, school, stealing, Madonna and not forgetting chocolate. She is as open about her fears and sorrows as she is about her delights and joys, and for the first time shares the experience of losing her beloved dad and later finding a tip-topmost chap in Lenny Henry.
From raging about class, celebrity and bullying to describing the highs and lows of motherhood and friendship,
reveals the surprising life behind the smile.
Dawn French is presently fifty-one years old and almost entirely spherical. She trained as a teacher at the Central School of Speech and Drama but luckily for the kids at Parliament Hill School, she left teaching in 1981 to join the
team with whom she has produced and appeared in over twenty films. Dawn made six series and various specials of sketch based hilariosity with another girl called Jennifer Saunders. She has done lots of other telly including
Murder Most Horrid, The Vicar Of Dibley, Wild West, Jam and Jerusalem
Lark Rise to Candleford
. She also does acting in plays sometimes.
She is married to a man called Len and has a daughter called Bill. She is alive and lives in Cornwall. This is the first book she has ever written … or read.
Marjorie Emily French née Berry
Taken from the album
I used to dance to the drum in your chest
My feet on your feet, my head at your breast
You gave me a tune and I carry it still
And I promise my darling, that I ever will.
HELLO. I HAVE
decided to think of this book as a memoir rather than an autobiography. As I understand it, the latter means that I have to be precise about chronology and touch on all aspects of my quite-dull-in-parts life. I think that would be quite dull because in quite a lot of parts my life has indeed been quite dull. You wouldn’t want to read about those bits, believe me. Those bits would mainly be about puddings I’ve enjoyed and when I’ve set the washing machine on the wrong cycle and my quest for comfortable shoes, and the time I put a gun in a kitten’s mouth. You don’t want to know about that ol’ faffle. So, I’ve decided instead to concentrate on those memories that are especially important or vivid to me. The parts of my life I can still remember the taste and feel and smell of. Otherwise we’d be here all day and I’m hoping you can be finished by lunchtime so’s you can have a nap and watch
. (Are they really loose? I’ve seen no evidence thus far and I’ve watched a lot … Unless, of course, the looseness is
the table … oh dear.)
Here’s what I’ve learned writing this book. Memory doesn’t begin with or end in ‘what happened’. In fact, I don’t think it ends at all; it goes on changing, playing a kind of hide-and-seek with our minds. Some of my memories are nearly 50 years old now and sometimes the startling clarity of them makes me doubt their reality. Do all of the people I write to in these pages remember what I remember? My dad, mum, brother, daughter,
, lovers and so on? I am lucky that I’ve kept diaries for large parts of my life on which I can anchor many of these memories. Even so, most of my diary-keeping is pure organisation and, annoyingly, doesn’t tend to remind me of my true emotions at any particular juncture. For that I must rely on my rapidly deteriorating grey matter, and a lot of investigative chatter with my nearest and dearest. I shouldn’t really be so surprised by the alarmingly speedy erosion of my memory, after all, my waistline has disappeared entirely. Like wearing a nappy or the Lost City of Atlantis, my waist is now only a vague memory or may even just be an ancient myth for all I know.
So, it’s in this spirit of reminiscence that I offer you this memoir of my life. My life so far, that is. To this end, I have decided to tell my story through letters, because this way, I can address my life to the people I’ve actually lived it with. It’s not that I don’t want to tell it directly to
, it’s more that I know these people well, and hopefully, by the end, you might know me well too. I do hope you enjoy it. If you do, feel free to tell all your friends. If not, please replace the book neatly where you found it, and if you’re in a residential area, be thoughtful, and leave quietly. Thank you.
SO, YOU’RE STILL
dead. It’s been 31 years and every day I have to remind myself of that fact, and every day I am shocked.
You and I only had 19 years together, and so when I think of you, I am still 19 and you are … What age were you? … To me, you were just the right age for a dad. Old enough to be clever and young enough to be handsome. Probably about the age I am now. Blimey, that’s weird. I will soon be older than you ever got to be. That’s not right somehow. A parent is supposed to be older at all times. The natural form is,
get older and you get … just old.
, and only then, should you be permitted to die. Even that should happen in front of the telly after a bowl of stew and a cuddle up with your missus. Not the way you died. Not like that.
I’m not 19 any more, Dad, and so many things have happened that you haven’t known, so I have decided to write this book for you. I want to remember our time together and I want to tell you about lots of stuff since. So far, it’s been better than expected …
I’M HAVING TROUBLE
remembering my very first memory. Each time I try I think I’m stealing other people’s first memories that I’ve either read or been told of. I
remember looking out of my pram at an adoring mother, I
remember being shocked at the first sight of my own pudgy baby fingers, I
remember the oddly delightful feeling of a nappy full of hot new poo. (Actually, on second thoughts, I can, but that came years later!)
There is something I
remember vividly, and when I experience it now, the effect is visceral. It takes me thundering right back to a mysteriously timeless but definitely very early blurry memory. The smell of my mother. Of Mum. A heady aroma that embodies birth and life and strength and sex and safety and fags. Whatever perfume she adds (currently she’s favouring JLo’s new honk, I noticed, when I was last in her bathroom – she’s MoLo!), this smell is always there as the baseline, and for me it’s magnificent and it announces that I’m home. I swear to God her cooking is flavoured with the same scent, which is why none of us can replicate her recipes. You have to be
to do it. I guess the scent is the code, the method of imprinting between a mother and child, and it is so potent. Sometimes even now I snuggle up to Mum just to get another headful to nourish me till the next visit.
I don’t have such a strong early memory of you, Dad, although I do have one of something that happened when I think I was about two or three. I remember creeping into your bedroom
you two slept and crawling under your bed. I’m not quite sure why I did this but I suspect it was the thrill of being hidden while being so close. A sort of delicious invisibility. (I did the same thing again years later at boarding school – more anon.) It seems a bit pointless to eavesdrop when those you’d like your eaves to drop on are fast asleep, but I suppose the joy was in the anticipation. Anyroadup, you might remember, a frightening thing happened. The bed was the kind that had low metal bars and bare springs beneath, and I only just managed to squeeze under. I must have had my hand inside one of the springs when one of you moved, resulting in a crushing pain as my little fingers were trapped. I shrieked and woke you. You leapt out of bed, full of confusion and dadly alert. You reached under the bed and, with a bit of gentle coaxing, pulled me out to safety and I ran into Mum’s arms for comfort (and most likely to smell that healing smell). All of this was fairly unremarkable except for one thing. You were completely naked and, although I was in agony, I couldn’t take my eyes off that weird dark dangly wrinkled thing. What
it? I’d never seen you without your pants on and for some scrambled reason the first conclusion I jumped to was that you were being attacked by some kind of nocturnal bed-intruding vicious hairy saggy mole-snake creature. Naturally the correct course of action, considering you had just rescued me from certain finger-death, was to reciprocate, so I lunged at your assailant with mighty force, thwacking it as hard as I could, trying to dislodge its tenacious teeth from your groin. However hard I hit, it would
let go or fall off and so I was forced to pull it like the keenest frontman on a tug-o’-war team. Inexplicably, both of you seemed helpless with laughter, and you even seemed
be resisting my help as you pulled on your pants and let the biting thing stay INSIDE them. What an idiot! I never saw it again so I guessed you’d had it put down at the vet’s or perhaps left it at the zoo.
DAD WAS AT
RAF Valley and we were living in Holyhead, Anglesey, so I must have been three years old and you must have been six when Hunni the dog turned up. I don’t know where she came from, but I remember she was named after a little girl called Hunni Hindley-Maggs who you were at school with and who you lost your heart to. Did she know you named a dog after her? Did she feel special as a result of that I wonder? I think the dog, a cairn terrier, was officially supposed to be
dog, but I just want to let you know that she definitely preferred me and I loved her back with a fervent passion verging on the illegal.