Dawn French: 'I can imagine any person I like'

Dawn French defends decision to write black characters in new book – arguing society shouldn’t ‘police fiction’ and she can imagine ‘any colour she likes’ after living in a ‘multicultural family’

  • Comedian and author Dawn French, 63, has penned new novel Because of You 
  • Book follows story of two mothers and features several central black characters 
  • Dawn was married to Sir Lenny Henry from 1984 to 2010 and have a daughter
  • Says while her voice may be less ‘authentic’ she can ‘imagine anyone she likes’

Dawn French has defended her decision to write from the perspective of a black character in her latest novel, adding that society shouldn’t be ‘policing fiction’.

The comedian and author, 63, released her fourth novel Because of You this week, which features a host of multicultural characters.

Appearing on The Andrew Marr show this morning, the Cornish-raised French and Saunders star, who was married to Sir Lenny Henry 1984 to 2010,  said that after living in a ‘multicultural family’, for her ‘the norm is to write any colour she likes’.   

Dawn, who shares adopted daughter Billie, 29, with the comic, admitted that while a black person may have a ‘more authentic voice’ while writing about their lived experiences, she can ‘imagine any person she likes’. 

Dawn French, pictured in 2005 with former husband Lenny Henry and their adopted daughter Billie, said that after living in a ‘multicultural family’, for her ‘the norm is to write any colour she likes’

Dawn released her latest book, Because of You, which features a host of multicultural characters, earlier this week, and appeared on The Andrew Marr Show this morning to promote the novel

Speaking in a clip filmed before London’s Tier 2 Covid-19 restrictions were implemented, Dawn said: ‘I think it would be a very surrey old state of affairs if we couldn’t imagine anyone we liked when we’re writing’. 

‘If we start to police who you can write in fiction, I think that’s a hiding to nowhere really. 

‘For me, my lived experience is in a multicultural family, so the norm for me is to write any colour I like. 

She later added: ‘Obviously if you are a black person you can write with a more authentic black voice, you most certainly can, but I can imagine any person I like’.

Speaking in a clip filmed before London’s Tier 2 Covid-19 restrictions were implemented, Dawn admitted a black person may have a ‘more authentic voice’ while writing about their lived experiences 

She admitted that she ‘fears cancel culture’, and believes that especially in comedy, it’s essential to be ‘edgy’ to ‘work out what’s funny’

Dawn also told of the ‘insidious racism’ she witnessed throughout her marriage to Lenny, 62, and that she feels people are ‘waking up’ to more subtle forms of discrimination around us ‘all the time’. 

‘I’ve certainly lived through some interesting racism, and vicariously through him’, she said. 

‘I witnessed it coming at him all the time mostly in quite insidious ways you can’t quite grasp and then you think “Oh, that was an odd uncomfortable moment”.

‘Quite often I reflected back and thought “I was witness to something there”. And that’s something we’re waking up to now, this racism is around us all the time. 

The Vicar of Dibley star also revealed that she ‘fears cancel culture’, and believes that especially in comedy, it’s essential to be ‘edgy’ to ‘work out what’s funny’. 

Dawn told of the ‘insidious racism’ she witnessed throughout her marriage to Lenny, 62, and that she feels people are ‘waking up’ to more subtle forms of discrimination around us

‘I fear a little bit for our cancel culture’, she said, ‘I worry especially in comedy where you need to flex your muscles a little bit, where you need to live on the edges of propriety, you need to offend a tiny bit to work out what’s funny. 

‘All the way back to Lenny Bruce, and Richard Prior and people I’ve always really enjoyed, the edgy people are the people that plough the furrow for the rest of us’. 

The comedian feels the ultimate test will be whether a comedian continues to have viewers, and that entertainers should be ‘free to say anything’, as those watching are ‘free to challenge you’. 

‘I think it’s a shame, I think my opinion is say what you want to say, be free to say anything and, so everyone can be free to have a go at you, to challenge you or to tune out from you. 

‘For any comedian that’s the biggest punishment, if nobody wants to listen to you anymore then I think you’ve got the message.’ 

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