DAWN French may come across as being big and bold on stage.

But right now, she's rather fragile and apprehensive.

The reason is the comedian is stepping onto the stage for the first time on her own.

Her long-time comedy partner Jennifer Saunders will be nowhere to be seen when French walks onto the Pavilion stage.

It's not a stand-up show as such, although there will be lots of laughs. The 56-year-old is planning to tell tales about her own life.

Talk of it both excites and seems to terrify her.

"I've just eaten a little bit of the cushion with my bum thinking about it," she says.

"I've always wanted to do it and I think I've dodged it a bit because I'm aware it's a risk."

French will be directed by Michael Grandage. She was desperate to work with the man who ran the Donmar Warehouse for a decade until 2012.

"I could have asked Fatty Saunders, but I thought, 'I'm actually going to ask a proper grown up theatre person'," she says, smiling.

The show is called 30 Million Minutes - because that's roughly how long she's been alive - but French still isn't quite sure what it is.

She makes a worried noise: "It's not a stand-up show. It's not a play. I guess it is a monologue because it's just me talking.

"It's a slideshow to an extent. But not just a slideshow. It's not like your awful, most feared auntie who's just come back from Egypt where you have to sit and watch everything.

"It's quite autobiographical, so I show you the people that have made me, so to speak. There's quite a lot about my mum and dad."

Her grandmothers will also feature - "Good Granny" and "Evil Granny". Although Evil Granny did actually steal from her, she knew the nickname was a joke.

"In fact she coined it - she thought the other one was so good."

French was born in Holyhead, Wales, in 1957 when her father was stationed there with the RAF.

But she spent much of her childhood in Cornwall and went to boarding school in Devon. At home, she was a performer - as was her dad.

"He would tease me to discipline me. Very loving teasing."

French's father gave her confidence and she remembers a "key moment" when she was leaving for a party.

"I've always been a big girl and shouldn't really have been wearing hot pants," she says.

Her father, though, was supportive.

"He told me I was completely beautiful and how amazing I looked in them and that I would get loads of attention.

"So my dad gave me a sort of telling off that was about totally infusing me with confidence - and I went on cloud nine to this party and I've actually never left that party. It was armour."

Weight has always been an issue. She's lost it, gained it. Eating, she admits, is very comforting.

"It's a lovely thing to do. We love tasting things. You don't get to be spherical without liking eating things."

When she was just 18, French's father Denys took his own life. Growing up, she and her brother had been shielded from his depression.

It was, she says, "just like a bomb went off in our family. My mum of course would have known there was danger. He'd lived his whole life with it.

"But this was in a time when you didn't say you had mental illness if you were the head of a family.

"I still have sadness about it. Massive sadness. And I think it's been a centre point of my life."

Soon after her father's death, French began studying at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London.

It was there she met Jennifer Saunders and the rest, as they say. . .

But now she's stepping into a new format, and she's not entirely sure about talking about herself on stage.

She certainly doesn't seem to be on an ego-driven mission. She is doing the tour, she says, because she's got things to say, thinks it could be fun and because she hasn't done it before.

"I don't need loads of positive strokes for just being alive. What I want is people to turn up and see whether what I've written works."

That's not to say, though, that there isn't an element of attention-seeking in performance.

"I think it's the child in us that is saying, 'Mum, Dad look at me'. It's a need for approval which I think all humans have. But I think performers have it in a needy, slightly sick way. I have had it and I have understood it as that."

She adds; "I don't think you can get up and do what I do without a bit of that going on, but I find it very unattractive - in myself and in other people."

French was married to fellow comedian Lenny Henry for 25 years until their divorce in 2010. They have an adopted daughter and still have a "great" relationship.

He is, she says, a good man and they had a very good marriage for a very long time until it went a "bit dodgy" at the end.

After their split, Dawn found herself, in her 50s, going on dates. "I'm not good at flirting, I'm not good at being coy. I can't do any of that."

Now, she has found happiness with new husband Mark Bignell, who runs a charity.

"It's completely thrilling. It's almost too delightful. I could almost burst with it," she says, indicating her life story on stage will certainly have its happy moments.

l Dawn French's 30 Million Minutes, The Pavilion, Thursday.