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Dawn French on finding love

For better or for worse, actress Dawn French has plenty to smile about.

Quick-witted, charismatic and never shy of sharing her opinions, Dawn French relishes being “at an age where I’m unafraid to talk about anything”. But when it comes to finding love again, she admits she’s the last person to give any advice.

“Everyone is different and what worked for me might not work for others,” she says of her second marriage to Mark Bignell. “For me, [falling in love again] happened purely by accident. After Lenny [Henry, her first husband], I decided not to go looking for it. My head was in that space when I met Mark.”

The comedienne tied the knot with Mark (50) last April at The Scarlet Hotel in Cornwall, after being introduced to the charity worker in 2011. However, it took Dawn (56) a while to realise her feelings for Mark were something more than just friendly.

“I suddenly thought, ‘Oh, look at you! Look. At. You!’ I saw him for the first time in a different way. He had absolutely no interest whatsoever! I think that was part of the allure in a way,” the Australia’s Got Talent judge recalls. “I had to persuade him, to be honest. I am a rubbish flirt – I’ve always been quite forward too.”

Dawn French in London. Image: Frank Blackwell

Now happily married, living with Mark in her 40-room cliff-top Cornish mansion, currently under renovation, Dawn is ushering in a new chapter of her life, which also involves her extended family – Mark’s two children and his parents, whom she affectionately calls “Ma and Pa”.

“When you get married at this age and for the second time, you’re not just marrying another person – you’re marrying another family… you’re not just making that decision for you, you’re  making it on behalf of other people too. We certainly sought our kids’ approval and luckily they get on.”

Consent from her daughter Billie, whom Dawn and Lenny adopted in 1991, was an important part of her pre-wedding approval process.

“All I want for Billie is that she’s happy, confident and finds her place in the world.”

Dawn’s encouraging sentiments for the 22-year-old stem from a lifetime of experience. The saying, “It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” rings true for the Harry Potter star, who has endured her fair share of trying times when it comes to matters of the heart.

Her beloved father, Denys, whom she credits for giving her an “armour” of confidence from a young age, committed suicide when she was just 18. Hiding his crippling depression behind good humour, Dawn and her brother Gary were shielded from Denys’ illness, with the shock of his death only registering for her later in life.

“It was like a bomb went off in our family. I still have sadness about it,” she reveals. “Massive sadness, and I think it’s been a centre point of my life.”

Then, in 2010, Dawn was dealt a serious blow when she split from her husband of 25 years, comedian Lenny.

“You need as much strength to stay in a marriage as you do to leave,” Dawn explains. “We often settle but compromise is no bad thing, it just depends on where you are in life and where you are in your marriage… It’s all about timing and being honest with yourself.”

Dawn looking glamorous on the cover of the Weekly’s August 25 issue.

But it was the sudden loss of her mother, Roma, to lung cancer in 2012 that left the funnywoman reeling. Dawn put her career on hold to care for the 77-year-old in the months leading up to her death.

“When I lost her, I felt a great sense of responsibility,“ Dawn recalls. ”Suddenly I became the matriarch in the family… I felt I had to step up and make sure I kept an eye on everyone. It made me realise that’s what my mother had done for all those years and now it was my turn.”

As she’s battled through the tough times, the self-confessed “yo-yo dieter” has also struggled to keep her weight on an even keel. She notably lost 48kg from her 120kg frame after her marriage to Lenny ended, cutting out chocolate and carbohydrates, before putting 12kg back on once she discovered a new-found comfort with Mark.

Sporting a slim figure once again, Dawn chides, ”We’re obsessed with our physicality now and I get bored with it.

“It’s important to accept your body, whatever shape it’s in,” she says. “I want to get on with my actual life and not worry about it.”

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