Dawn French Explains How Tragic Loss of Her Father Influenced Discision to Adopt Billie

The loss of a parent is an event that haunts children for the rest of their lives, no matter how old they are when it happens. For Dawn French, her father’s death when she was 19 profoundly impacted her.

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Dawn’s father, Denys French, was in the Royal Air Force. He and Dawn’s mom, Roma French, were childhood sweethearts who later married. Dawn often became depressed due to her short stature and weight as a child. But her dad would be a tower of strength in her life, imparting how special she was and offering constant encouragement, love, and support.

“Everything my parents did, they did with such love and such care…. It was my father who taught me to value myself”, she once said. “He told me that I was uncommonly beautiful and that I was the most precious thing in his life.”

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Sadly, on September 11, 1977, Dawn’s father committed suicide. It’s said that in the years following his departure from the RAF, Denys felt lost and purposeless, sinking into a deep depression he never recovered from. On top of everything else, the family had financial issues that added more strain.

In 1984, Dawn married comedian Lenny Henry. While the couple imagined starting a family, sadly, it wasn’t to be after doctors informed them that Dawn could not have children.

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So, in 1991 Dawn and Lenny adopted Billie when she was just two weeks old.

Since then, the comedian also said that losing her dad at age 45 played a significant role in her decision as it made her consider her morality and continued to influence how she raised Billie. She said in 2018:

“Being 19 and losing your dad made me think, ‘Oh God, maybe we don’t live very long’.

“So I grasped any opportunity I could but I thought, ‘I need to get old enough to grow my daughter into her twenties at least, then she’d manage without me after that’.”

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Dawn also credits her mother with her decision to adopt as well. On the Table Manners podcast, she said:

“My mum was on adoption panels quite a lot and she would talk to me about adoption and fostering, so when I adopted my daughter, I listened to what my mum had said. I genuinely believe your relationship with your mum is the foundation of everything else.”

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And while Billie’s birthmother is still alive, the two reportedly have no contact.

Dawn says:

“I am mindful always of the other mother. She’s someone I’m very grateful to and feel protective of.

“I feel very strongly connected to the other absent mother, who is part of our triangle. It’s an unspoken contract and it’s a contract between families I will always honour. Nobody should come in between it.”

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  1. “Dawn French says her dad sent a ‘sign from the grave’ that her husband Mark Bignell was the one” Cornwall Live.