The one and only Dawn French can’t wait for her panto debut – playing the Wicked Queen in Snow White at The Palladium
Pantomime at the iconic London Palladium has always attracted the biggest names in showbiz. The likes of Cilla Black, Bruce Forsyth, Julie Andrews, Frankie Howerd and Peter Sellers all trod the hallowed boards over various Christmases during the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies.
In 2016, the grand Palladium Panto tradition was revived and Paul O’Grady starred in Cinderella with Elaine Paige in Dick Whittington last year. But this Christmas brings arguably the starriest draw to date as the one-andonly Dawn French steps out for her first ever panto role.
She’s playing the Wicked Queen and has been photographed looking frighteningly fabulous in sequin-encrusted black satin, ebony feathers and twinkling scarlet crown.
“Dawn is making her debut in this panto and is an absolute scream,” her co-star Julian Clary revealed recently. “We’re having so much fun.”
Dawn is just as delighted. “Me and me darlin’ Julian Clary together at last,” she has said. “It’s been a long time coming – ooooer! I am very excited about Snow White – oh yes I am – and can’t wait to be proper wicked. Roll up! Roll up!”
Dawn being ‘proper wicked’ is bound to be naughty rather than nasty. We’re not used to seeing her playing a villain but the Wicked Queen in Snow White isn’t the first time she’s taken on a ‘wicked’ role. In her Nineties’ dark comedy series Murder Most Horrid, she played a murderous dinner lady, the Grim Reaper, and a killer abbatoir worker amongst other dastardly characters. Yet with that typical French flair for fun and her own unique twinkle, she made them all likeable and funny.
Starring in the biggest panto in the land, odds are that Dawn’s Christmas this year will be very different to previous ones. She usually spends the festive period in Cornwall where she and husband Mark Bignell live, but with the late afternoon Christmas Eve performance not ending till around 7pm, and having to be back in the theatre for a 2.30pm performance on Boxing Day, it’s rumoured that she and Mark will stay in London.
While Christmas Day is sure to be a lovely day Dawn (61) has said that since her mother passed away six years ago, it has also sometimes been difficult.
Writing poignantly in her hugely successful book Me. You. A Diary she expressed what so many of us who have lost loved ones feel at this time of year. “I usually have a dip on Christmas Eve. I’ve only gone a bit Scroogey and bah humbug because my darlin’ mum’s gone. I have no parents (her father committed suicide when she was 19). Christmas is so much about family and parents, I find that every part of your grief is exaggerated at Christmas. It’s when you miss your parents the most, when you’d like to be considering them and buying a present for them and you’re not. You just get reminded of it. But I just have to move into this next phase of my life. So, when I have this dip, I think, ‘How am I going to get out of this in time for Christmas?’ ”
Dawn has said how thankful she is for a cheerful husband who plays Father Christmas quite often for various people and loves Christmas. And she doesn’t want to ruin it for him. “In the end I just pick myself up and actually capture the joy. Anyway, who taught me to love? Who am I like? Who lives on in me and is here at Christmas – and always? My mum. So, you remember those who aren’t here but you celebrate those who are. It always comes right in the end.”
We couldn’t have put it better ourselves, Dawn. Merry Christmas!
■ Snow White at The Palladium runs until Janary 13. Visit lwtheatres.co.uk/theatres/ the-london-palladium/
■ Dawn’s bestselling book Me. You. A Diary, a Sunday times bestseller, is now available in paperback in book shops and online.
Rolling out some wicked fun in Murder Most Horrid in the Nineties
From left: Dawn with Jennifer Saunders in a Christmas Carol, too many dinners in The Vicar of Dibley and with Jen playing reality stars the Kardashians