I FIRST chanced upon Francesca Martinez in the children’s drama Grange Hill, in which she played Rachel Burns.

Ground breakers always have an appeal for me and I was fascinated to see what the show’s creators had in store for the programme’s first disabled character.

A great opportunity to put across to young people a positive image of disability. While the positive image was put across, I always felt “Rachel” could have been given more challenging storylines.

But she’s definitely centre stage now, attracting critical acclaim as a stand up comedian and rubbing shoulders on TV with comedy heavyweights like Frank Skinner and Ricky Gervais.

Francesca, who was born with cerebral palsy, will bring her latest show to The Lowry in September. What inspired What Is Normal?

“The show very much looks at the idea of normality because being born wobbly made me have this intense relationship with the idea of being normal. It was something that really haunted me and had a really big effect on my life. It covers my journey to realising, hang on a minute, I’ve never actually met a normal person. Where do they exist? Suddenly I realised there is no normal, there’s only people,” she says.

Francesca names Bill Hicks as her comedy hero and success came quickly as a stand-up. Within a year of starting gigging, she was winning a best new comic award at the world famous Edinburgh Fringe. Her writer dad Alex gave her the comedy bug, writing a film script for her in which her character was a stand-up comedian. Her disability means she speaks slower than an able-bodied person would speak but that doesn’t take anything away from the fact that this articulate, warm and witty thirty something is well worth listening to. How did people react when she first started, performing?

“One of the reasons I loved it so much was because I’d finally found something where my difference was viewed as a positive. In comedy I think if you have a unique perspective it’s a bonus so when I walked on stage there was a heightened atmosphere. People sat up and the room went quiet. I found that an advantage because I could play with people’s preconceptions. I found people’s reactions amazing and they changed my life because they showed me that if you’re honest about yourself then they take that lead. It really helped me fully accept myself,” she says.

* The Lowry presents Francesca Martinez - What Is Normal? on September 16 at 8pm. Bookings can be made on 0843 208 6000 and you can also book online at www.thelowry.com