‘Why I escaped for a quiet life’ Dawn French’s decision to rebuild her life in Cornwall was about more than just a picturesque coastline

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  • Dawn French’s portrayal of Geraldine Granger in The Vicar of Dibley is the equivalent of a warm cup of tea on a rainy day.

    But despite being synonymous with joy and laughter, Dawn French has been on her own journey of despair and darkness in her lifetime – having suffered her father’s tragic suicide when she was 19 and splitting from long-term husband Lenny Henry in 2010.

    After relocating to Cornwall with the comedian in 2006 to be closer to family, Dawn had two options when they parted ways: move back to the city or rebuild a quiet life by the coast.

    Woman magazine looks at why Dawn – happily remarried to Mark Bignell – took time to ‘find’ herself and a new pace of life…

    The end of an era

    Dawn and Lenny’s split came as a shock to most when it was announced in 2010 that their 25-year marriage was over.

    So it’s no surprise it took Dawn time to ‘mend herself’ – something she knew was vital if she were to find happiness again.

    ‘I have mended myself. I have seen what happens if you stay broken,’ she said previously. ‘When I was single I found my new self. But I think it is OK to grieve over a relationship.’

    After all, Dawn thought Lenny was her forever partner, and said, ‘It is odd though, because I thought I’d be married to Len forever and then I wasn’t.’

    Finding love again

    While Dawn found being single again ‘bizarre’, she’s admitted she liked her time alone. ‘I was enjoying having time to myself,’ she said.

    Although she missed physical intimacy, Dawn felt ‘strong’ and that she ‘really didn’t need a bloke to be happy’. And then in 2011 she met her now-husband, Mark.

    ‘I thought it would be sad if I didn’t have a cuddle with somebody again but I was having the odd date with people, so that wasn’t the case,’ she told the Mirror.

    But the comedian stands by the fact she wouldn’t have been able to fall in love with Mark if she hadn’t found happiness within herself first. ‘Maybe you have to get to that place where you are happy with yourself on your own before you are prepared to open up to another relationship. And then, if you fall for someone you fall for them. And that’s that.’ The pair married in 2013.

    A happy home

    Having previously felt ‘overwhelmed’ by bustling city life, Dawn is happier than ever living the quiet life in Cornwall with Mark. Revealing the anxiety she used to feel in London, Dawn said, ‘My problem with being in busy places… I find that I get quite upset by constantly seeing difficult things.’

    Now she’s 62 and by her own admission in her ‘autumn’, Dawn is embracing the next chapter. ‘I am enjoying the place I’m in. I realise I’m right there in autumn and I can’t see the point in resisting it.’

    A slower pace

    While she remains largely tight-lipped about her private life, Dawn regularly shares snippets of her Cornish lifestyle and it’s clear there’s been a shift in her attitude as she enjoys a slower pace of life.

    Having once rubbed shoulders with A-listers, Dawn can now be found posting pictures of flowers and celebrating the sun streaming through her windows.

    Having dealt with huge sadness in her life – stemming largely from her father’s suicide – Dawn knows the importance of making the most of every moment. ‘I still have sadness about it,’ she’s admitted. ‘Massive sadness. It’s been a centre point of my life, what happened with my dad.

    ‘I am definitely making the best of every minute if I can… although having said that, making the best of every minute is sometimes being very quiet.’

    While growing older can highlight the frailty of life, it can often bring with it a new-found sense of self – which is something Dawn clings on to.

    ‘I know who I am now. I’m never going to try to pretend to be anything else.’

    Well said, Dawn!