This life is a very com­pli­cated one, where people need you con­stantly

ON THE RE­LEASE OF HIS MEM­OIR, NAT­U­RALLY TAN, ELLA WALKER CHATS TO TAN FRANCE, ABOUT TAK­ING CARE OF HIS MEN­TAL HEALTH AND THE JOY HE FINDS IN MAR­RIAGE

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FEW have the op­por­tu­nity to write a mem­oir – to an­a­lyse what’s helped chisel us into the (clearly out­stand­ing) per­son we are to­day. Don­caster-born Tan France, fash­ion ex­pert on the ab­surdly suc­cess­ful Queer Eye, is sin­gu­larly placed – it’s his job to sculpt oth­ers into their best selves, and yet, thanks to the celebrity of re­al­ity TV, is now faced with scru­ti­n­is­ing his own life. And what he’s re­alised from writ­ing his mem­oir, Nat­u­rally Tan, is “just how par­tic­u­lar I am as a per­son – how dif­fi­cult I am!” he says with a laugh. “I’ve al­ways known it, but ev­ery one of the sto­ries I re­count, it’s ba­si­cally an, ‘I told you so!”’

Bad habits aside, Tan, 36, felt it was his re­spon­si­bil­ity, be­ing in a “very priv­i­leged po­si­tion”, to take the op­por­tu­nity to tell the story of “a per­son like me, who rep­re­sents and is a mem­ber of many dif­fer­ent marginalis­ed com­mu­ni­ties”. But he is swift to point out, this isn’t a de­fin­i­tive story.

One of the main rea­sons he didn’t want to do Queer Eye ini­tially is be­cause, he ex­plains: “I don’t want people to as­sume that when I say some­thing, all Asians think this, all gay people think this, or all im­mi­grants think this.”

He points out that sto­ries writ­ten about him “will al­ways start: ‘Pak­istani, im­mi­grant, Tan France’ – it will never say that about [his Queer Eye co-stars] An­toni [Porowski] or Bobby [Berk], it’s just their name, and so it re­minds me con­stantly that I am dif­fer­ent, other, and that when I speak, people as­sume I speak for a whole

de­mo­graphic, and that can’t pos­si­bly be the case.”

He’d rather people out­side his own com­mu­ni­ties take “em­pa­thy and an un­der­stand­ing of what it is to be a per­son of colour, or within the LGBQT com­mu­nity, or an im­mi­grant”, and that those on the in­side will “feel slightly less alone”.

While re­strained on the sub­ject of his fam­ily, en­tre­pre­neur Tan is charm­ingly open about his hus­band Rob. De­spite a con­tro­ver­sial pair of cow­boy boots (ob­vi­ously Rob’s), the two of them be­came in­sep­a­ra­ble fol­low­ing a first date, and live in Salt Lake City, Utah.

“I was will­ing to move in with him af­ter two months!” says Tan, mock aghast. “Now if I saw some­body do­ing that, I’d tell them they were berserk, but back in the day it just felt fine.”

They’ve been to­gether 11 years, and haven’t let Tan’s at-ca­pac­ity sched­ule cre­ate even the slight­est rift be­tween them – how­ever ge­o­graph­i­cally split they are much of the time. It was Rob who nudged Tan into his first Queer Eye au­di­tion, and he was there to run sec­tions of the book by. So no, he didn’t mind in the least that Tan ex­plored their re­la­tion­ship amongst its pages.

“[Rob] is my touch­stone, no mat­ter what is go­ing on in my life, he is the one con­stant,” says Tan. “There are no se­crets be­tween us.

“Quite hon­estly, it does re­ally well for him,” he adds, archly. “I paint him in the most beau­ti­ful light! The amount of people who have said since, ‘He sounds like the best guy on the planet’ – he is! So, if he had been un­happy about the way he’d been rep­re­sented, he’d be in­sane.”

From Tan’s giddy, CAPS ON com­ments on his Queer Eye co­hort’s In­sta­gram pics, to the fun he has with clothes and his steely grey bouf­fant, not to men­tion the joy­ful­ness of the trans­for­ma­tions he cre­ates as part of the Fab 5, you’d think his ev­ery fi­bre was braided with hap­pi­ness. But of course, life is more knotty and problemati­c than that, and in the book, Tan is frank about pe­ri­ods of de­pres­sion and mo­ments of sui­ci­dal thoughts he’s strug­gled with in the past.

Be­ing in the pub­lic eye, and hav­ing his day-to-day in­creas­ingly shaped by the rau­cous de­mands of TV, he ex­plains he’s “learnt bound­aries” to keep his men­tal health ro­bust. “This life is a very com­pli­cated one, where people need you con­stantly. Whether you’re on cam­era, be­ing in­ter­viewed or on tour, there’s al­ways people around to be en­ter­tained, and they al­ways want the ‘Tan France’ they see [on TV],” he says, with­out frus­tra­tion or mal­ice. “I’ve learned when I’m not in the pub­lic eye to have com­plete si­lence, whether it be in a car, or in my home, where I just sit and en­joy quiet time and don’t en­ter­tain. That keeps me happy and grounded.”

Ig­nor­ing reviews and on­line com­ments is a balm too, but there’s no deny­ing some top­ics he cov­ers could read as bold and coura­geous to some, but objectiona­ble to oth­ers. Take the chap­ter on 9/11, in which Tan un­equiv­o­cally and sin­cerely shares “the brown per­spec­tive”, and his ex­pe­ri­ences of be­ing stopped at cus­toms, and, as he writes, hav­ing had “white people wait­ing for an apol­ogy”. It’s a chap­ter that blazes with light and hon­esty, but Tan did not feel in the least brave writ­ing it.

“No, I ac­tu­ally feel re­ally weak, be­cause I was too scared to add it un­til the very end,” he ex­plains, his voice stretched thin. “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.”

Thank­fully, he wran­gled his pub­lish­ers into in­clud­ing it “for my people and my­self, for all the times I’d been stopped, and for all the times some­body treated me dis­gust­ingly be­cause of the fact I’m Pak­istani”.

Later this year, Tan will co-host new Netflix show, Next In Fash­ion, with Alexa Chung, and there will of course be more Queer Eye.

“Oh my god – not yet!” he yelps ex­cit­edly when asked about the pos­si­bil­ity of hav­ing kids. “I was meant to a cou­ple of years ago, but life got so in­sane, like so nuts, that I think it would be re­ally un­wise to bring them into this now.”

He’s think­ing nearer 40 in­stead, by which time equal­ity will have hope­fully taken hold; the rest of us will have caught up with his no-boot­cut jeans mantra, and he can “give them the at­ten­tion I so des­per­ately want to give them”.

Nat­u­rally Tan by Tan France is pub­lished in hard­back by Virgin Books, £16.99. Avail­able now.

Queer Eye star, Tan France

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