Dear Dawn French
Since the whole book is a series of letters to all those people who have touched your life, I thought it fitting to write a letter to you, the author, to thank you for sharing some very intimate details of your life and allowing me, the reader, to get to know the person behind the incredibly funny face.
I have never written any kind of fan mail before. In fact, I have often wondered where people send fan mail to. Do they actually know the addresses of their idols or is there some secret post box where it all goes to be sorted by a select team of the Royal Mail specially designated to deliver to the rich and famous? Nor have I ever belonged to any type of fan club or society where common worshipping of a single person or group of persons is the done thing. Maybe I wasn’t a particularly impressionable teenager or maybe I just couldn’t be bothered to get that excited or passionate about anything or anyone. Yes, I think that’s probably it. Sheer laziness on my part. Sad really, but hey, maybe I’ll make up for it in my later years and become a life-long member of some obscure appreciation society.
But, I digress. What I wanted to say was although I can never really claim to have had any real idols of my own when I was growing up, there were two very influential people who saw me through some horribly lonely and insecure periods of adolescence; namely you and your fantastic comedy partner Miss Jennifer Saunders. I used to try and decide which one of you I liked best but it was always a tough call. For hilarious facial expressions alone, it was definitely you, but on the other hand Jennifer did share my name and played the sulky teenager to perfection, which I completely related to at the time, so I felt she was a kind of kindred spirit. At the end of the day, and still to this day, I’d have to say that despite going on to do highly successful individual projects, I like you best in equal measures when you’re side by side.
So, I can’t help feeling a little sad at your decision to part company but I can fully understand your reasons for doing so. It’s always best to quit while your ahead and still on top of your game than to carry on regardless at the risk of losing the immense popularity that you have built up over the years. It does feel like the end of an era though and no doubt that was partly your reason for writing the book; to pay tribute to the wonderful partnership that has brought joy to millions, young and old, for the last 25 years. I just wish I had been in England last year to go and see your final live tour, but as I am now based in Spain I will have to settle for watching it on DVD.
It seemed to me whilst reading Dear Fatty, that the main purpose of your book was threefold. Firstly, to express love and gratitude to all the people that have had an lasting influence on your life, both personally and professionally. Second, to seal the end of French and Saunders and pay tribute to your comedy twin. Third, and perhaps the most difficult to write, to lay the ghost of your father to rest. For me, the most poignant parts of the book were those letters beginning Dear Dad, each one written with such honesty and intimacy that I almost felt like I shouldn’t be reading them, as if I had stumbled across someone’s personal diary that I wasn’t entitled to open.
I had no idea that your father had committed suicide when you were only 19, or in fact of the other difficult chapters in your life regarding the disappointing and painful IVF treatment and the long adoption process that followed. And why would I? For me, and millions like me, yours was a face on the TV that was there to entertain me and brighten up my day, which you did so well on countless occasions. It never occurred to me that behind the terribly funny persona there was a life full of its own private grief and hardship. Which is another reason why I am so glad that you decided to write Dear Fatty – to let us see from who and where you have gained the inner strength and self-belief to keep performing at such a top level for so long - a small army of very close-knit family and friends who you have been able to trust 100% every step of the way.
I love the simple gesture of writing a letter or letters to each and every one of them and have often thought if I ever write a book I would do so as a series of letters. In fact, how dare you pinch my idea! Though, as my partner pointed out, since I am not and never likely to be even remotely famous, no-one apart from the intended recipients would probably want to read my letters. Still, public interest aside, it is a wonderful way of letting your nearest and dearest know how you feel about them, something we often leave until it’s too late in life.
And as a structure for an autobiography it is a stroke of genius since, as you point out, we do not recall things in a linear or even chronological fashion, we remember more the people and the places that have helped to shape who we are and what we’ve become. And what could be more personal than a letter written to those very people.
I have to say yours was the first autobiography that I have ever read. I’ve always avoided them to tell you the truth, preferring to get my literary teeth into a good novel instead, and probably because there’s nobody that I’ve ever been that interested in reading about. After all, autobiographies have become an unashamedly transparent tool for self-promotion these days and with the average age of celebs writing them standing at about 25 I’ve never been inspired to read one.
But I decided to break with tradition when I bought yours as a Christmas present to myself last year and I’m very glad I did. In fact, I’m now thinking of making a list of other people (over the age of 50 who’ve actually had a life) that I would like to know more about. Don’t suppose Fatty is considering writing one, is she?