Date of Birth: July 6, 1958
Jennifer Jane Saunders was born in Sleaford, Lincolnshire, England to biology teacher Jane and to Robert Thomas Saunders. Due to her father’s job in the armed services, Saunders and her three brothers had to move schools multiple times. Jennifer was educated from the ages of five to 18 in boarding schools, and then later at St. Paul’s Girls’ School.
After this, she worked for a year as an au pair in Italy. In 1977, she attended Central School of Speech and Drama in London for a drama teachers’ course, where she met her future comedy partner Dawn French—whose father was also part of the Royal Air Force. The two began to work together after graduating and formed a double-act called The Menopause Sisters, which Jennifer recalled as “cringeworthy.”
She began to receive public attention, along with Dawn, when they became members of the comedy collective, The Comedy Strip. There, she met fellow comedians Rik Mayall, Nigel Planer, Alexei Sayle, Peter Richardson, as well as her future husband, Adrian Edmondson. Jennifer took part in her first film, Supergrass, a parody of slick 1980s police dramas, that was directed by Peter Richardson.
In 1987, Jennifer and Dawn wrote a sketch comedy series of their own, called French and Saunders, and it was a massive success due to the duo’s writing, acting and hilarious spoofs of famous movies and bands. For this, she and Dawn received a BAFTA Fellowship in 2009. Although they maintained their comedy sketch show, Jennifer’s biggest solo success happened in 1992, when she was asked by the BBC for more sketch ideas. As Saunders could not think of anything new, she decided to just expand upon one of the sketches they did for French and Saunders — an episode about an uptight daughter and a neurotic mother. Through this, the BBC television sitcom Absolutely Fabulous was born.
In the series, she starred as Edina Monsoon, a heavy-drinking PR agent who tries too hard to look young and “hip” through trying various bizarre fads. Three seasons were made, and in 1995, the show was put on hold until Jennifer came back with a fourth season in 2001, and her fifth in 2003. Joanna Lumley costars as Edina's boozy friend Patsy. For Canadians and Americans, she has made appearances on the popular sitcoms Roseanne and Friends. You may also recognize her as the voice of the evil Fairy Godmother from DreamWorks’ Shrek 2, for which she won the American People’s Choice Award, and the voice of Queen Elizabeth ll in the animated comedy Minions.
While writing and starring in the comedy drama Jam & Jerusalem (Clatterford in America) and writing BBC Two’s The Life and Times of Vivienne Vyle, the final series of French and Saunders, titled A Bucket o’ French & Saunders aired. After having a starring role in the film Supergrass, Jennifer continued to appear in films such as In the Bleak Midwinter (1995), Muppet Treasure Island (1996) and Fanny & Elvis (1999). She also made cameo appearances in the films Spice World (1997) and Absolument fabuleux (2001), a French film based on Absolutely Fabulous. Jennifer also published an autobiography called Bonkers: My Life in Laughs, in October 2013.
Jennifer has been married to Adrian Edmondson since 1985, and they have three daughters together—Eleanor “Ella” Rose (1986), Beatrice “Beattie” Louise (1987) and Freya (1990). In July 2010, she announced that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2009, and went into remission following chemotherapy, lumpectomy, and radiotherapy. Jennifer became a grandmother when her daughter Ella gave birth to a son named Fred, born on August 27, 2012, and then a second son, Albert Rafferty, who was born in February 2014.
Not only has she been nominated for and received many awards for her work in film and television, but she placed 93rd out of E!’s 100 Sexiest British Stars, received an honorary doctorate by the University of Exeter in July 2007, and came 18th for Best British Role Models for teenage girls in Britain, according to Good Housekeeping magazine. Jennifer supports charities as well, taking part in the UK charity “Comic Relief” since 1986, and volunteering for “Dress for Success,” a non-profit organization that gives free clothing and job interview advice to unemployed women.
She hit the big screen again in a comedy film based on her television series: Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, which released July 22, 2016. Multiple celebrities make cameos in the film, including her longtime colleague Dawn, who appears as a talk show host
Her most recent effort is the animated film Sing (2016) with Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon.
Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (2016)
L'entente cordiale (2006)
Shrek 2 (2004)
Absolutely Fabulous (2001)
Fanny and Elvis (2001)
Spice World (1997)
Muppet Treasure Island (1996)
In the Bleak Midwinter (1995)
Eat the Rich (1987)
The Supergrass (1985)