Tan France: ‘People assume I’m older than I am’

The designer who made his name on Queer Eye, talks about his heritage, becoming a father and how to keep your eyebrows looking great

When I was young, my focus wasn’t on my queerness. It was more on being south Asian. I was raised in a small town in South Yorkshire. On the way to and from school, you just didn’t know if you were going to get attacked. But I had the sanctuary of my extended family, so many incredibly kind, supportive and happy aunts, uncles and cousins. So there was a weird mix of sorrow and great joy.

I recently went on a babymoon to Iceland. I’m sure it’s the same for every parent: I worry how to raise them without them becoming little shits. We don’t know what colour our child is going to be. I’m hoping brown, but when you have a mixed-race child, who knows? [Tan and his husband have now become parents using a surrogate mother.]

I’ve been going grey since I was 12. People assume I’m older than I am, which is frustrating. I still feel 21, but when I get out of bed, my knees creak and I think: “How am I nearly 40?”

If I could go back in time, I’d tell myself, “Stop trying to hide your feminine traits.” I thought I should try to curb my femininity. Now I think: “Fuck what everybody else has to say!”

All men should brush their eyebrows. It takes me 20 seconds maximum to make them look good. Then I just tweak my eyelashes with a curler.

I had braces as a kid – train tracks. It was so fucking painful, it was miserable. I stupidly wanted to draw more attention to them, so I had coloured bands to pretty them up. I don’t have many regrets in life, but that’s a regret for sure.

Nobody is allowed to touch my face or my hair for camera. I want people to see the same me in the street as they do on TV. I do my own hair and I refuse to wear makeup. I tell them: do not book a makeup person, they’re going to be bored.

I seldom go out in public without some kind of disguise. It’s very rare that I go out and somebody doesn’t say hello. Then I realise that the gig is up and they usually want to give me a hug. People often get very emotional when they say hello. It’s very, very sweet.

I’ve never been verbally attacked in the US, but I think that’s because they don’t know where I’m from. They can’t tell from my skin colour, my clothes or my accent. Most people in America don’t even know where Pakistan is, whereas in the UK, they know to call me a Paki. It happens almost every time I visit the UK. Someone will inevitably call me a Paki on the street. I thought being famous would negate that.

I’ve had to work on myself for a very long time. Now, when I look in the mirror, I finally see a happy, gay, relatively confident, south Asian, Muslim man.

Tan France’s Queer Icons is available to download now from Audible


Rich Pelley

The GuardianTramp

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