Lessons learned from the refreshing honesty of Dawn French

Everyone has a story to tell. You, me, a neighbour, a work colleague. Our stories aren't that different.

We're sons and daughters, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, we work at jobs, fall in and out of love, deal with tragedy and joy, we make mistakes and try our damnedest to live our lives as best we can.

Now, on a good day, without wanting to blow too much smoke up my own patooty, I don't spin a bad yarn. But on Tuesday night I had the honour of being in the presence of a woman who showed us all how to tell a story properly.

Dawn French spent a good two hours regaling us with details of her life, her 30 Million Minutes spent on this earth, in a place now – "that sliver of time between the madness of my menopause – now thankfully over – and the impending madness of my dementia" – to tell stories that are intrinsically her own.

She's her own woman here too, not a half paired with "Fatty Saunders", as she calls long-term collaborator Jennifer, she's not the Vicar, just Dawn, 58 years old, a daughter, a wife, an ex-wife, a sister, a mother.

What I loved most about the whole show, apart from the fact that it was incredibly funny, and sad, and poignant and honest, is that French revealed herself to be just like any one of us.


She's in a place where many of us are residing, or soon will be (sometimes, indeed, it feels like my menopause will only come once I've lost the capacity to remember I've had my periods) – wondering how, even at this advanced age, how to be a daughter, how to be a mother, how to be a wife, how to be a sister.

You'd think by this age, by this stage in our relationships, that we'd have it all worked out, know what to do, how to be, but we don't, and French's honesty is refreshing. It's brave to admit you don't have all the answers, that life is still throwing curve balls, still challenging, and we're still struggling to work it all out. How boring would life be if we had all the answers, even though at times, the answers are all you wish for.

There was much in the show too, about body image, and French's battle with those that think she battles with her own body image. She's quite happy to admit she has the legs of a short, fat old man, that once she was fitted in a theatrical flying harness used to transport Harry Secombe (and I loved the fact that most of the audience on Tuesday night knew who Harry Secombe was).

She gives her body parts nicknames – and surely has Australian-ised the tags she gives her boobs – Kath and Kim – while her vagina is Sharon (I'll never be able to look at Magda Szubanski​ in the same way again – now there are two women I'd like to get in room together with a cask of chardonnay).

Much of French's strength, her own self-confidence in this regard, undoubtedly came from the support of her parents, in particular her father, and more about him soon, a man who told his daughter that she was beautiful and precious and smart and funny, that he was proud to be her father. A man who taught her how to value herself, a man who told her any man would be blessed to have her in his life.

The tragedy here is that her father died by suicide when French was just 19, a history of mental illness and depression finally catching up, and suddenly their square of a family, was a triangle. She sits to the side of the stage while a pre-recorded voiceover tells this part of her story. A quiet moment which made us all stop.

She feels, perhaps obliged is the word, to tell fathers everywhere to love their daughters like her father loved her, to be the men they'd want their daughters to be with, to be kind and gentle and cheerful, full of compliments and unconditional love. It pleased me to hear the audience give a little supporting cheer when she said all this. Fathers, good fathers, deserve all the support they can get.

But mostly it pleased me to hear an audience laughing, not at French, but with her. Accepting her as a woman with faults and flaws, a woman honest enough to admit that she knew her 25-year marriage to fellow comedian Lenny Henry was over when she realised she was more upset by the fact that Big Brother was over. She still speaks of Henry, however, with respect and grace, but is so obviously in love with new husband Mark Bignell.

She's a sharer, perhaps an over-sharer – there was one particular scene where she described how she once had to check her mother's lady bits for a splinter of glass – but you know what, perhaps the world needs more over-sharers. More people who are happy to admit they're not perfect, happy to admit their mistakes and make light of their flaws.

Perhaps we should all be so honest with ourselves that we are honest to other people and tell them how we truly feel. Perhaps that's how we should live out our own million remaining minutes. Telling the truth.