The Untold Truth Of Tan France

Tan France, like everybody in Queer Eye's Fab Five, is unique in his own way — just like Jonathan Van Ness with his luscious locks and Antoni Porowski with his disarming handsomeness. But France stands out for several different reasons; he's of smaller stature than the rest of the lads, the only non-American, and he's considerably quieter, too — even more so than Karamo Brown, who seemingly never raises his voice — but perhaps most shockingly, for a show whose five leads are gay men, he's Pakistani and Muslim.

In his deceptively emotional interactions with the show's participants, or "heroes" as the cast refers to them, France appears as someone who's open and honest but also intensely private. He seems like a man with a story to tell, but it's never clear whether or not we're actually going to get to hear it. Still, although Queer Eye's resident fashion expert may not be a completely open book, he does have plenty to say about life, love, fashion, and his difficult experience growing up Muslim and gay in England, among other things. This is the untold truth of Tan France. 

Tan France was the biggest unknown pre-Queer Eye

Tan France is the only member of the Fab Five who hadn't appeared on television prior to Queer Eye, which is crazy considering he seems so comfortable on camera. France told Vogue in an interview, "I didn't really care about the entertainment industry, that wasn't my life." But he said he agreed to do the show because, "I wanted to show the world a version of me and everything that I represent, because I represent a lot that's never really been seen before: an Asian person on American TV, who's British, gay and follows a certain religion."

He never even auditioned, explaining to Entertainment Tonight that the producers sought him out due to his social media presence. "For me, it kind of just came out of nowhere. I feel like it was a lottery. I got super lucky. I am very, very grateful," France acknowledged. The Brit was already a fully-fledged business owner in his own right, having launched his womenswear brand Kingdom & State in the UK in 2011, at the age of 26, before moving the brand to the U.S. in 2013.

Tan France was shocked Jon Bon Jovi recognized him

Although Tan France may not have necessarily realized what he was getting himself into, there's no denying the rebooted Queer Eye is incredibly successful. France didn't quite understand the hype surrounding the Fab Five until one particular celebrity recognized him. In his memoir, Naturally Tan (released in 2019), France noted he was filming an episode of Today when someone very unexpected approached him.

"I cannot tell you how weird it is when you go from having absolutely nobody know who you are to suddenly being recognized by Jon Bon Jovi," he admitted. Speaking to USA Today about the encounter, the Queer Eye star acknowledged, "You can't not recognize him," noting that he considered Bon Jovi to be "one of the sexiest men on the planet." The rock star recognized France just days after Queer Eye first started airing, telling him, "My wife and I love you on the show!" France revealed the duo nearly FaceTimed her at the time, too.

Tan France tried bleaching his skin when he was younger

The most shocking revelations in Tan France's memoir, Naturally Tan, relate to the horrifying racism he endured while growing up in the UK. In particular, the Queer Eye fashion expert admits to going to pretty extreme lengths to try to change his appearance. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, he revealed that, although his family never openly discussed using bleaching cream on their skin, France later discovered they'd all at least wanted to try it, explaining, "I think every one of us in my family felt the pressure to be as pale as physically possible."

As France elaborated, "They thought that that was the only way that people were going to see them as equal. ... people feel if you're not pale enough, you're not going to be successful." Although France's family has moved past those times and is able to discuss it lightheartedly, it still disturbs him that "this continues on, and there are those kind of products that are sold across the world."

Tan France was terrified about being on Queer Eye

For someone who was so uninterested in being famous he didn't even apply for the show, the prospect of being on Queer Eye completely terrified Tan France. Aside from just being on television, potentially being watched by millions of people via their Netflix subscriptions, the British star felt a huge pressure to represent two very different communities — South Asian and LGBT — simultaneously, and to do justice to both.

In an excerpt from Naturally Tan, published exclusively by Stylist, France further explained his reticence. "I worried that everything I did and said would be seen as my speaking for the entire South Asian community. Beyond this, I was so worried about how I was going to tackle religion. I knew that no matter what, I was never going to be just Tan France. The press was always going to refer to me as Tan France, the gay British Muslim. They never introduce Antoni as the gay Polish Christian," he wrote.  

Tan France is the best with money out of the Fab Five, according to JVN

It shouldn't come as a much of a shock that Tan France, who was running a successful business before he hit 30, is smart with his finances. Discussing all things money with Business Insider, the Queer Eye star noted when he was first starting out, "I spent my money in a way that I knew was going to benefit my business, where I'm not spending extra money. I was always hyper aware of what my bank balance was and where every penny was going."

Looking back on his career, France isn't impressed by extravagant purchases. Rather, he argued, "The best thing I spent money on was my business ... that's what got me to where I am today." Co-star Jonathan Van Ness agrees, as he enthusiastically told Refinery29, France — or "Tany Banany," as he lovingly referred to him — "is the most responsible ever — the smartest and the wisest and makes the best decisions." JVN added, "All of the rest of us are just prudent. But Tanny Banany is the smartest boy [with money]."

Tan France sees style as an incredibly vulnerable topic

Tan France's role as Queer Eye's fashion expert could arguably be seen as the most frivolous (with the exception of maybe Jonathan Van Ness, but JVN's energy is so contagious he essentially offers an entirely different service outside of just grooming). However, as the British star explained in an interview with Entertainment Tonight, discussing clothing leads to discussing body image and that can put the show's participants in a uniquely vulnerable position.

As France revealed, "You find a way to connect with them that their friends don't ... I get to ask them, 'Tell me about your waist. Tell me about the hair on your arms, are we wanting to cover it?'" He added, "They're vulnerable and they talk about things that are so [important] to them. It helped build that relationship with them. And I'm sure if you had to talk about your most personal parts of your body with somebody, that really helps to bring down a few of those walls real quick." 

Tan France tried to quit Queer Eye several times

It's safe to say Tan France wasn't as immediately comfortable with fame as some of his co-stars. But he actually tried to walk away from Queer Eye more than once. As he revealed to Insider, the businessman and style expert was incredibly intimidated. "I was going to quit before I started shooting because I was too scared of the pressure. Then, episode three, I tried to quit again because I was too scared of the cameras and, again, the pressure of being part of this community so publicly and having to speak for a community," France admitted. "So yeah, there were many, many times after I accepted the job that I thought, 'I'm not cut out for this.'"

However, after being encouraged by one of the producers to just be himself, the Brit settled into his new role, noting, "I just got to be me, and that's why I thought, 'OK, I can do this, and at no point will I profess to speak for people. I am myself and myself only.'" 

A Queer Eye participant wondered if Tan France was a terrorist

Tan France's difficulties with racism didn't end when he left the UK, or even when he started on Queer Eye. As he told Vogue, while filming the very first episode of the show, participant Tom Jackson questioned if France was a terrorist. "It was very shocking and very jarring. That set the tone for me and made it clear why I was doing the show. I wanted to set the record straight," France stated. Rather than react, the style expert accepted it as an opportunity to change someone's perspective. 

"I've experienced racism and homophobia my whole life, so I've trained myself to just deal with it calmly, to not cause a scene and to find a way to calm the situation down. When somebody says something stupid to me, I usually alleviate it with laughter and humor. I make light of it to educate people on why it's inappropriate," he said. The Queer Eye star explained to Insider that he can only be himself and focus on his own behavior. He added, "That will hopefully encourage people to see my people in a more positive light. ... Basically what I'm saying is, not all brown people are terrorists."

Tan France almost didn't write about racism in is memoir

Although racism has colored much of Tan France's life, when it came time to write his memoir, Naturally Tan, the Queer Eye reality star was reluctant to discuss it. France admitted to the Irish Examiner that the chapter on 9/11, in particular, was incredibly difficult to write. "I was too scared to add it until the very end," he admitted. "It was the reason I wanted to write the book in the first place, and then I was too scared to add it, and then I didn't, until the book had closed."

France finally decided to include it "for my people and myself, for all the times I'd been stopped [in the airport], and for all the times somebody treated me disgustingly because of the fact I'm Pakistani." Likewise, he told Refinery29, "I think it's the most important [chapter] as far as what I wanted to achieve with this book, which is basically to see me and all of my people as people, and not see me as this label that you have which is 'terrorist.'" 

Tan France wants to be the celebrity he never had growing up

Tan France's reluctance to be famous by joining the cast of Queer Eye was tempered by his desire to show a different side of South Asians, generally, and Muslim gay men, in particular. But, more than anything else, he wanted to be the TV star he never had growing up. Speaking to The Independent, France pointed to how other people don't understand how seeing people like them on TV affects kids.

"Every now and then you'd see an Asian person [on TV]. Were they ever the love interest? No. Were they ever desirable? No. I don't remember a gay Asian character, and if there was, I didn't see that show," France shared. "I wish I'd seen a version of me on TV. It felt like our stories weren't needed. Nobody wanted to hear our stories. And it just set in my mind that we're not seen as desirable." Nowadays, he gets messages from Pakistani kids who see France as proof they don't need to hide who they are and, to him "that feels really f**king powerful."

Tan France has the best connection with participants who are most different from him

In spite of literally being asked by a Queer Eye participant if he was a terrorist, Tan France has found common ground with everybody on the show except one person. However, he noted to Digital Spy, "The interesting thing is, the people that are the most different to me, I find the best connection with. You'll notice in season three, there's an episode where you would think there was no way on God's earth that I would find a connection with this person, and it was the person that I had the strongest connection with that season."

Naturally, it goes both ways, as France finds himself learning from the "heroes," too, even one who was very hesitant about letting him in at all. "I could tell that this person didn't want to work with me, but by the end of it he was my favorite one because I had gone out of my way to make a connection, to build a connection and to find a way to help us both see that person and what they represent differently," the fashion expert acknowledged.

Tan France's spin-off show is the most real version of him

It makes sense that Queer Eye doesn't necessarily give the biggest insight into the Fab Five's own lives, and rightly so, since the focus is on the participants. Hence, Dressing Funny, Tan France's short-form spin-off Netflix show, in which he dresses hapless comedians including Always Be My Maybe star Ali Wong and Saturday Night Live's Pete Davidson, provides more layers to the intensely private star in particular.

"In my opinion, Dressing Funny is the most real version of me," France told Vanity Fair in an interview. "You get the snarkiness, the vulgarity, and the really playful side of me." Likewise, although France reaffirmed his love for the show that made him famous, he also relished the opportunity to show more of himself to fans. "This lets me explore a version of myself that you don't get to see... Jonathan [Van Ness] is a comedian, he's very funny. But I think that you see a side of me in Dressing Funny that you will never see of me in Queer Eye."

Tan France's book is a tribute to his happy marriage

Naturally Tan is first and foremost a loving tribute to Tan France's marriage to husband Rob. As he told the Irish Examiner, France knew Rob was the one right away (after a dinner date at Olive Garden of all places). "I was willing to move in with him after two months!" he admitted. France explained that his husband "is my touchstone, no matter what is going on in my life, he is the one constant."

Furthermore, France told The Irish Times, "This book really is for him and it's my opportunity to put in writing something that will stay with us for the rest of our lives." He also sees it as having a greater impact on society as, he said, "We don't really talk about successful gay relationships a lot. It's not something you see very often in media. I wanted to talk about my love for my husband and how incredible he is and how happy my marriage is." 

However, the Queer Eye star apparently went slightly overboard in his book at one point, admitting he "had to really cut it back because it was ridiculously gushy at one point and so I had to edit it so I didn't sound insane."

Tan France had no gay friends prior to Queer Eye

It took a lot of convincing for Tan France to appear on Queer Eye, with the British star even reasoning with The Guardian, "I wasn't qualified. I'd never been on TV before. It made no sense to give this complete novice this high-profile show." However, one of the reasons he agreed to even give it a try was because his husband, Rob, reminded him of something significant missing from his life. 

"My husband said, 'You've been moaning for years and years that you have no gay friends. There's going to be a room of gay men and you're the most sociable person I know: just go,'" France recalled. The 40 finalists were flown to L.A. and it was there France met Jonathan Van Ness, Antoni Porowski, Karamo Brown, and Bobby Berk. The five of them quickly hit it off, and they even had their own text group within a couple days. That instant chemistry was what sold the modern version of the show and what continues to make it essential viewing.

Tan France has no interest in being a reality star

Although Tan France is willing to discuss his relationship, his fashion tastes, his business, and even his experiences with racism and homophobia, there are certain elements to the British star's life that remain off limits. When pressed by The Guardian to discuss his family's reaction to him marrying a man, France shut down, explaining, "We don't talk about that. Just because I am on a TV show does not mean people have access to every facet of my life." He noted, "I never got into this as if it were my reality show." 

He doubled down in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. When questioned about why he didn't discuss his experience of coming out to his family in Naturally Tan, France said, "I didn't talk about it because there are certain things that are very private to me, and family is one of them." This is how the Queer Eye star sees it: "I chose to allow fame into my life, and I don't want to take that choice away from my family. I never mentioned their names, because they didn't sign up for this. That was my choice."