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Sir Lenny Henry reveals he quit Comic Relief due to missing former co-hosts including ex-wife Dawn French and teases his replacement following 39 YEARS presenting the iconic telethon


Sir Lenny Henry has revealed missing his former Comic Relief co-hosts – including ex-wife Dawn French- was one reason why he decided to step down from presenting the iconic telethon after 39-years.

The comic, 65, who co-founded the charity alongside Richard Curtis, has fronted the Red Nose Day specials since its inception as a charity in 1985, but confirmed that this month’s show will be his last.

Sir Lenny, who was married to Dawn from 1984 to 2010, told Radio Times he ‘missed his gang’ of fellow comics who co-hosted with him in the 80s including French and Saunders, Billy Connolly and the late Victoria Wood.

Telling the publication: ‘We were like a little gang. But for a few years I’ve felt, “Where’s the new gang?”’.

‘[Comic Relief] is a baton to be handed on to a new group of people who are going to take on Comic Relief’.

Sir Lenny Henry, 65, has revealed his absent former Comic Relief co-hosts - including ex-wife Dawn French- was one reason why he decided to step down from presenting the iconic telethon after 39-years

Sir Lenny Henry, 65, has revealed his absent former Comic Relief co-hosts – including ex-wife Dawn French- was one reason why he decided to step down from presenting the iconic telethon after 39-years

The comic was married to the actress from 1984 to 2010 (pictured together in 2005)

 The comic was married to the actress from 1984 to 2010 (pictured together in 2005) 

The comic, who co-founded the charity alongside Richard Curtis, has fronted the Red Nose Day specials since its inception as a charity in 1985, but confirmed that this month's show will be his last (pictured in 1989)

The comic, who co-founded the charity alongside Richard Curtis, has fronted the Red Nose Day specials since its inception as a charity in 1985, but confirmed that this month’s show will be his last (pictured in 1989)

Lenny then tipped his replacement after praising David Tennant who hosted the show in 2019 due to theatre commitments. 

Saying: ‘I thought, well, actually, [David was] brilliant. And I think there’s other people, newer people, who are coming up like Romesh Ranganathan, Alesha Dixon, AJ Odudu

‘There are new people coming up now who can absolutely take the reins’.

However Sir Lenny did admit that while he would not be on screen during the big night he’d continue working for the charity behind the scenes as it’s Life President. 

In 2010, Dawn and Lenny, who share daughter Billie, divorced on the grounds of his ‘unreasonable behaviour’.

There were rumours that Lenny, who is now in a long term relationship with Lisa Makin, cheated on Dawn in 1999, an allegation he denied.

The move shocked the nation and the pair have not given much insight into why their seemingly happy life eventually turned out in divorce.

A statement released on behalf of the couple read: ‘The separation is entirely amicable and they fully intend to maintain their close friendship.

Sir Lenny said  he 'missed his gang' of fellow comics who co-hosted with him in the 80s including French and Saunders, Billy Connolly and the late Victoria Wood (Dawn, L, and Victoria R, pictured in a 1990 Red Nose Day sketch)

Sir Lenny said  he ‘missed his gang’ of fellow comics who co-hosted with him in the 80s including French and Saunders, Billy Connolly and the late Victoria Wood (Dawn, L, and Victoria R, pictured in a 1990 Red Nose Day sketch) 

He then tipped his replacement after praising David Tennant who hosted the show in 2019 due to Lenny's stage commitments (David and Lenny pictured in 2023 Comic Relief Sketch)

He then tipped his replacement after praising David Tennant who hosted the show in 2019 due to Lenny’s stage commitments (David and Lenny pictured in 2023 Comic Relief Sketch) 

Saying: And I think there¿s other people, newer people, who are coming up like Romesh Ranganathan , Alesha Dixon , AJ Odudu (pictured)'

Saying: And I think there’s other people, newer people, who are coming up like Romesh Ranganathan , Alesha Dixon , AJ Odudu (pictured)’

‘Their priority is to commit to the future joint parenting of their daughter.’

Fans wanted more and while they wanted closure for themselves, the pair stayed strong and kept a low profile on their split, making life for the daughter much more manageable.

Read Sir Lenny Henry's interview in Radio Times out now

Read Sir Lenny Henry’s interview in Radio Times out now

For six years, the topic of their breakup was taboo until 2016, when Lenny hinted that the pair thought about divorce for a while before the inevitable end, but neither one realised that the other also felt the same.

In an interview with the Express, he said: ‘There’s generally a situation where one partner wants the marriage to finish more than the other. I think maybe one of us did, then the other one did, and then the other did over a period of time and then, in the end, we thought, ‘Oh, actually maybe we both do’.

‘We knew it wasn’t possible to continue,’ he added.

Dawn, who has since wed Mark Bignell, did not publicly commented on the divorce at the time but her unofficial biographer, Alison Boyer said the comic duo had been ‘outgrowing’ their marriage before their split.

In an interview with The Mail, Alison said: ‘[Dawn] and Lenny have long been moving in increasingly different directions and have spent little time together in the past two years.’

The pair waited until Billie turned 18 to announce the devastating news to the world. 

They were so protective over the teenager that they even took the extraordinary step of taking out a lifetime legal injunction preventing any disclosure about her natural parents or adoption.

Many people have speculated that they simply never overcame the schism caused by Henry’s dalliance with a young blonde woman in a hotel room 11 years before, which he has denied.

In 2010, Dawn and Lenny, who share daughter Billie, divorced on the grounds of his 'unreasonable behaviour' (pictured 2009)

In 2010, Dawn and Lenny, who share daughter Billie, divorced on the grounds of his ‘unreasonable behaviour’ (pictured 2009)

There were rumours that Lenny, who is now in a long term relationship with Lisa Makin , cheated on Dawn in 1999, an allegation he denied  (pictured  at their 1984 wedding)

There were rumours that Lenny, who is now in a long term relationship with Lisa Makin , cheated on Dawn in 1999, an allegation he denied  (pictured  at their 1984 wedding)

But the truth is that a dramatic shift in the balance of power between the couple may have signalled the death knell of their relationship, according to her unofficial biographer.

Alison said: ‘Dawn, for so long was the more successful and confident of the two. But in the couple of years leading up to the split, she seen her husband’s career hit new heights while hers, to be blunt, has been on the wane.’

Following the separation, the pair were able to maintain a health friendship and amicable relationship in front of their daughter and cameras.

Dawn told The Mirror at the time: ‘Remarkably, we seem to have shifted with relative ease from a 25-year marriage to a lasting friendship. I am amazed by us – there is no war, we’ve turned out to be the best of friends. There were lots of good years but one tricky last year.’

Read Sir Lenny Henry’s interview in Radio Times out now.

Comic Relief airs on BBC One and BBC iPlayer Friday March 15 from 7pm. 



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