My new book, friendship with Jennifer Saunders, and Covid-19, by Dawn French

Dawn French talks about her first novel in five years
My new book, friendship with Jennifer Saunders, and Covid-19, by Dawn French

Dawn French

DESPITE lockdown, Dawn French, comedian, actress and novelist, has welcomed the chance to get together with her old mucker, Jennifer Saunders.

They’ve been reunited for a podcast, are appearing in Kenneth Branagh’s movie remake of the Agatha Christie thriller Death On The Nile, due out in December, and have kept in touch during the pandemic, she reveals.

“My first bit of ‘back to work’ was with Jennifer. As soon as we were allowed to meet up at a great distance from each other, with a wall of cake in-between, we met up and devised a series for Audible called French & Saunders: Titting About.

“We see each other all the time anyway as friends. We’re not very good on Zoom. I’d rather be on the phone to her or we text each other a lot.

“If we don’t get to see each other much, we just pick up where we left off. There’s never a guilty gap. It’s not a friendship that you have to feed on a regular basis to keep it topped up. It’s very secure.”

During lockdown, French, aged 63, finished writing her first novel in five years, Because Of You, a story of love, identity and belonging as two baby girls born on the millennium New Year’s Day change the paths of the women who give birth to them.

One is stillborn and, in her desperate grief, the bereaved mother steals the other healthy baby from the hospital. Then unfolds the story of what happens to the two couples - and the child - as they face the consequences.

French explains: “I wanted to find a story where it was a challenge to empathise with the main character. She is somebody who is honourable and upright and who we want to love, flaws and all, who does something huge and wrong.”

French spent lockdown at home in Cornwall with her husband, Mark Bignell, who runs a drugs rehabilitation charity, her daughter Billie and her stepdaughter, Lily. She dedicates the book to Billie, Lils, as she calls her, and Olly, her stepson.

“Lockdown was frightening.

“It’s frightening to have an invisible enemy out there but I’m quite resilient and resourceful and to hunker down with my family was a kind of a treat.

“My two daughters came to live with me for three months and we cooked for each other and talked a lot and gave each other space and had robust debates about things.

“When we get the chance to look back, what we’ll notice is all the little acts of kindness and the moments when people pulled together and supported each other.”

French recently returned from Wales where she was filming the new Sky One Christmas family drama Roald & Beatrix, in which she plays Beatrix Potter.

The release of Kenneth Branagh’s remake of Death On The Nile, which features French and Saunders, has been put back to December.

Because Of You by Dawn French is published by Michael Joseph, out now.

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