Absolutely Fabulous star and one of Britain’s funniest comediennes Jennifer Saunders has received an honorary doctorate from Edge Hill University.

The screenwriter and actress, who has won two BAFTAs, an International Emmy Award, a British Comedy Award, a Rose d’Or Light Entertainment Festival Award, two Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Awards, and a People’s Choice Award, now has this latest achievement to add to her collection. Her award is for services to the entertainment industry and high achievement in her professional life.

Her award was conferred from the University’s Chancellor Professor Tanya Byron in a ceremony at the Ormskirk campus on Thursday 21st July. Listen to Jennifer’s interview here.

She said: “It feels very nice to have doctor in my name, I’m very proud to be here and get this award from such a lovely University. My mum is here with me today and she’s really pleased too because I sometimes forget to tell her the things I’m involved with, but I remembered to tell her this for a change.”

In the past, Jennifer has turned down an OBE, so it was a double honour for Edge Hill University to have Jennifer accept the honorary award. She explained: “I was so cross when it got out that I’d turned down an OBE with Dawn French because that was supposed to be confidential, but at that time I felt we didn’t really deserve it, all we’d done was our job, not like those people who work tirelessly for charity. But this is different, it’s for the University and I really want to make sure I’m of some use to Edge Hill and can do things for them in the future.”

In typical Jennifer style, she delivered a comical acceptance speech at her ceremony. Teasing the students, she said: “When I was told months ago about this I thought I would prepare with diligence and intensity like you have all done for your exams – so I started it last night, with a strong coffee and a can of red bull. I googled information, copied and pasted bits and changed a few words so it looked original.”

Afterwards she admitted how nervous she was. “It’s completely different to being on camera. I was so nervous because when you do something like this you have to be yourself, and I feel awkward being myself.”

Jennifer is widely known for her partnership with Dawn French, forged when they were both students at the Central School for Speech and Drama in London, then in the extraordinarily successful French & Saunders programmes for BBC TV.  Her work, during an outstandingly successful career, has been in a variety of leading roles, especially in Absolutely Fabulous which ran for 13 years.

Over the last 30 years Jennifer Saunders has changed the way that audiences in the UK think about and react to funny women.   Working as part of a vanguard of female comics, Jennifer has helped to shift the public view of female figures from the ‘object’ of comedic situations, epitomised by mother-in-law jokes, to becoming the subject, the protagonist and leader, of humour.  As a writer as well as a performer, Jennifer has explored in a perceptive and frequently ‘bitter/sweet’ way the relationships between people. 

The 53-year-old, who is married to former Young Ones star Adrian Edmondson and has three daughters, is, in reality a very private person, completely different from the egocentric characters that she often plays on screen.  Her extensive charitable work is undertaken quietly and without fuss. She also secretly battled breast cancer after being diagnosed in 2009, which she only revealed after being give the all clear.

Edge Hill University is particularly pleased to honour Jennifer because the originator of and co-writer for The Life and Times of Vivienne Vyle is Professor Tanya Byron, the University’s Chancellor.

Explaining her links to Edge Hill University, she said: “Tanya is my best mate and when she became Chancellor she invited me to her inaugural but I couldn’t make it. I’ve since been to the campus a few times, so I was chuffed when she asked me to accept an honorary doctorate.”

Although Jennifer has not been in the spotlight for a while, she will soon return to our screens for three episodes of Absolutely Fabulous; and next year for The Comic Strip – a classic series which helped launch the careers of Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, Keith Allen, Alexei Sayle and Adrian Edmondson.

Talking about her return to TV, Jennifer said: “I’m really looking forward to it, I’ve missed it so much, it will be great to catch up with old faces – and they really will be old. Although I’ve not really been a lady of leisure off screen as I’ve been writing a book for the Spice Girls Musical, which is really exciting.”