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Dawn French’s adoption story of her daughter Billie: 'My biggest test and my biggest joy'

The Vicar of Dibley star shares Billie with former husband Lenny Henry and the mother and daughter live 12 minutes from each other

Dawn French attends the "Oklahoma!" West End opening night at the Wyndham's Theatre on February 28, 2023
Sophie Hamilton
Parenting Editor
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Comedienne Dawn French shares one child, daughter Billie aged 32, with her former husband, Lenny Henry, who she split from in 2010 after 25 years of marriage.

Dawn, 66, lives nearby her daughter in Cornwall, with her husband Mark Bignell, who has two grown-up children of his own, Olly and Lily. Lenny has been in a long-term relationship with theatre director Lisa Makin since 2013.

Read on to learn about Dawn and Lenny's adoption journey with Billie…

WATCH: Dawn French shares a look inside her Cornwall home

When Dawn and Lenny adopted Billie

Lenny and Dawn married in 1984 in Covent Garden, London, and adopted Billie in 1991 when she was just two weeks old, after struggling to conceive naturally.

Lenny Henry and Dawn French on their wedding day© Getty
Dawn French and Lenny Henry on their wedding day

Dawn told the Sunday Telegraph: "I had grief for a while. I did have miscarriages, so I’ve had grief about that as well.

"But the minute Billie arrived that was it for me. She fills everything I needed to be as a mother."

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Dawn opened up about adopting Billie on Elizabeth Day's How To Fail podcast, revealing: "The minute we met her and she came into our lives - I think a week afterwards - you just hit the ground running."

"Suddenly there's a phone call. And it happened right in the middle of when we were about to make a French and Saunders series - we had the studios booked, we had the directors booked, we had all our crew booked, we were writing the series ready to go into the studio."

Dawn added that her co-star Jennifer Saunders was her rock throughout the process, covering for her and keeping everything private.

Dawn French, Lenny Henry and Family© J.Tregidgo
Dawn's daughter Billie at the wedding of Jools Holland in 2005

Dawn and Billie 's relationship

The Vicar of Dibley star Dawn has previously spoken to HELLO! about her bond with Billie.

She explained: "[Our bond] is unbreakable. We have the same amount of mother/daughter friction that any mum and daughter have, it's no more or less. But I've learnt a lot about her. And she's learnt a lot about me." She added that her daughter is: "My biggest test and my biggest joy." 

The Vicar of Dibley star lives in Cornwall© David Fisher/REX/Shutterstock
Dawn French has one daughter and two step-children

Opening up to The Telegraph, Dawn revealed how Billie enjoyed being an only child.

"I’ve got a daughter who bought a T-shirt for herself when she was about eight that said, ‘I’m an only child, let’s keep it that way,'" she said.

"She perfectly well likes her new stepbrother and sister but she has been an only kid for a long time so I have to keep that in mind. She’s had a lot of me to herself."

The mum-of-one and Billie live 12 minutes away from each other, with Dawn telling the publication they have had challenging moments: "We could no longer live together - there would be murder. But we have to live nearby."


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