Lenny Henry, Dawn French, divorced 13 years, star in Comic Relief 2023 fundraiser - why did they split up?
Lenny Henry and Dawn French both starred in Comic Relief 2023
and live on Freeview channel 276
Both had successful careers and their own shows but something went wrong in their marriage and they split up in 2010. The former couple share a child, whom they adopted, and have stayed friends. In a recent reunion, they appeared on Comic Relief on March 17. But, their story begins in the 1980s.
How did they meet?
They met in 1980 when both were members of Comic Strip - an alternative comedy show. Dawn encouraged him to move to alternative comedy and he took her advice and became a stand-up and character comedian. Their relationship became stronger during that time and they finally tied the knot in 1984 at London’s Covent Garden.
In his memoir Rising to the Surface, he wrote that he dated multiple people before meeting Dawn. “Most of them were fuelled purely by physical attraction. Besides, I lacked attention span when it came to actually being with someone,” he wrote, according to The Sunday Times.
“So, I found myself growing lonelier by the minute. I was yearning for something more substantial, but I just didn’t know what that was.” However, with Dawn he felt that he didn’t need to perform or amuse her, and she could make him laugh.
The Lenny Henry Show star added: “A massive light bulb went off over my head. I was compelled by [Dawn]. We talked about everything... performance, politics (my family voted Labour, but I hadn’t really connected with the whys of it until I met Dawn), family, relationships, food, the future.
“Even at the worst of times we used humour as sword and shield. My mind was at last tuned in, focused and functioning as an equal in a relationship. In other words, I was in love.”
They had a big wedding to celebrate their relationship. Henry said: “To my mind, if we weren’t going to get married in the right way — big church, reception, dress suits, food, friends and family jammed into a fancy-schmancy chi-chi hall with a big band and Big Al the DJ winding up the day’s events with a big disco — then we might as well not do it at all.”
How their family grew
Seven years after the got married, the couple adopted a child - Billie - in 1991. They had tried to conceive but, it didn’t work out for them.
Dawn told The Telegraph: “I had grief for a while. I did have miscarriages, so I’ve had grief about that as well. But the minute Billie arrived that was it for me. She fills everything I needed to be as a mother.”
Billie had let her parents know that she wanted to be an only child when she bought a T-shirt aged eight saying, “I’m an only child, let’s keep it that way.” However, that changed after her parents split.
She now has stepsiblings, Olly and Lily, from Dawn’s marriage to Mark Bignell. He is a therapist who co-founded charity Hamoaze House. He was a family-friend having co-founded the charity with Dawn’s mother. They tied the knot in 2013 and are still going strong.
Lenny Henry and Dawn French’s divorce
A friend of Dawn’s told the MailOnline in 2008: “I don’t think anyone will ever understand how hard Lenny’s fling hit her, here was a moment when she could have walked away and nobody would have blamed her, but Dawn is stronger than Lenny.
“She decided that in spite of what he had done, she still wanted him. She had to think for both of them. Plus, she had their daughter, Billie, to think about.” But, things came to a head and in 2010, the couple released a statement stating that they are parting ways.
“The separation is entirely amicable and they fully intend to maintain their close friendship. Their priority is to commit to the future joint parenting of their daughter,” they said, according to Hello!
In 2016, he told the Express: “There’s generally a situation where one partner wants the marriage to finish more than the other. I think maybe one of us did, then the other one did, and then the other did over a period of time and then in the end we thought, ‘Oh, actually maybe we both do’. We knew it wasn’t possible to continue.”
They remain friends and the star of French and Saunders tries to be “mindful” of Lenny’s partner, producer Lisa Makin.