You won’t find a chip on Francesca Martinez’ shoulder, no matter how much you look.
The 32-year-old comedian suffers from cerebral palsy, but has absolutely no hang-ups. She came up with the term the Wobbly Girl. She is even prepared to say the condition has done her “a career favour”.
She says: “Performers can struggle to find an identity. I came with one ready made.”
The press made much of her “differences” when she joined the cast of Grange Hill in 1994, the first time a disabled character had been introduced to the series.
Now things have moved on, and people tend to recognise her because of her media fame rather than any physical attributes.
Francesca recalls: “I was going down the street and there was a bunch of boys looking at me as if I was a bit weird, and I thought ‘O for God’s sake’.
“Then I came up to them, and they looked a bit bashful, and one of them said, ‘Excuse me miss, but, er, could we have your autograph please?’”
Cerebral palsy affects her voice and movement, but not her ability to deliver fast verbal patter, or to fence banter with audiences at comedy clubs.
She has gigged in the West End, on TV, on New York’s Broadway, and in front of world leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Her best remembered role, though, is probably her appearance with Kate Winslet in a TV episode of Extras. Francesca doesn’t view herself as any sort of heroine or champion. Future generations may see things differently. Due tribute will be paid to the young woman who broke into comedy at a time when people with disabilities were unknown in the business.
After Grange Hill, she found herself unemployed. “There were just no disabled character parts around,” she says. Her fortunes changed when she discovered a flair for stand-up.
Her first audience gasped when she had to be helped on stage. But she broke the ice with the gag: “In case you’re wondering about my condition, it’s called – sober.”
She went on to lampoon England football coach Glenn Hoddle’s infamous assertion that people with physical disabilities were being punished for sins in former lives.
“I’ve had some great past lives,” she says. “The time when I was an axe-murderer was really something.” That first audience loved her routine, and audiences have loved her ever since.
Most of Francesca’s time is spent writing comedy, which she does in partnership with her father. But on Saturday, she makes her first appearance in Southend, delivering a 25- minute stand-up routine at the open- air Village Green Festival in Chalkwell Park.
Francesca loves Essex audiences. She says: “They’re really up for it. They really enter into the spirit of the gig, not like some snotty places.”
After Village Green, she will return to her dad and her writing work at home in London. The pair are working on a sitcom for the BBC which places “a disabled person into conventional, familiar sitcom situations.” The core part, of course, will be played by Francesca.
Perhaps her most cherished TV project, though, is called What the Hell is Normal?! It involves Francesca on a hunt to find a normal person.
She says: “Ever since I was a tiny child people have been using this word ‘normal’ around me. It haunted me as a child. It wasn’t so much the inference that I fell short of normal, as the simple question, what is normal, what do people mean by it?
“There seemed to be some sort of accepted standard as to what normal was. Yet the more I looked around, the more I realised – nobody I knew lived up to the concept of normal.
“I’m the right person to go round trying to locate this mythical normal person, but I have to say, I haven’t found one yet.”
Francesca will perform at the Village Green Festival this Saturday at 9pm on the Kino Village stage.