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Pain behind the charmed life of Tan France: Stylist found fame (and starry friends) thanks to Queer Eye – but will never return to live in the UK after racist thugs beat him and left him for dead


He made enough money from fashion design to retire at 33, and boasts a glittering TV career and a posse of A-list friends, so it’s easy to view Queer Eye star Tan France as a man living a charmed life. 

His personal life is equally blissful with ‘incredible’ husband and two children, but behind the success story is a history of racial abuse and struggle for acceptance as a gay Muslim man that was so traumatic that Tan, now 40, struggles to set foot in his home town of Doncaster.  

The star – full name Tanveer Wasim ‘Tan’ France – was born to Pakistani immigrant parents, and has been outspoken about the racism and struggles with his sexuality he faced growing up.

While he’s now a household name and is besties with Gigi Hadid (whom he also hosts Next in Fashion with) – but the designer’s start in style was far from New York Fashion Week.

Before Tan was one of the glitzy A-listers starring in this week’s star-studded Marks & Spencer ad, he got his start studying at fashion college in Yorkshire. 

He’s always been interested in the power of clothing, especially inspired by the ensembles he saw at his grandparents’ denim factory in Bury, Greater Manchester.

While he's now a household name and is besties with Gigi Hadid (whom he also hosts Next in Fashion with) - the designer's start in style was far from New York Fashion Week. Both pictured in New York, in February

While he’s now a household name and is besties with Gigi Hadid (whom he also hosts Next in Fashion with) – the designer’s start in style was far from New York Fashion Week. Both pictured in New York, in February

He’s been open about the challenges he faced while living in the UK – from being beaten up and left for dead by racist thugs to bleaching his skin aged just nine, so found his big break after moving to the US.

Here, FEMAIL looks at how one of the first openly gay Muslim men on TV in the UK became an international star…

GROWING UP IN YORKSHIRE 

Tan now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with his husband Rob, 42 – a former Mormon cowboy – who he married in 2007, and their sons Ismail and Isaac, but he has not shied away from talking about the turbulent time he had growing up as a gay, Muslim man in Yorkshire. 

In a 2022 documentary on colourism, he opened up about painful moments from  his childhood as he visited the UK

The Netflix star was driving up the M1 to Doncaster when the memories came flooding back to him as he filmed Tan France: Beauty & the Bleach.

During the programme, Tan revealed how he’s been ‘concerned’ about his skin colour ‘since the day he was born’, and bleached his skin when he was nine years old.

Although he was determined to visit the place he grew up for the documentary, the traumatic memories meant he couldn’t face it and he was unable to take the motorway exit.

Before Tan was one of the glitzy A-listers starring in this week's star-studded Marks & Spencer ad, he was a young boy studying at fashion college in Yorkshire. Pictured when he was younger

Before Tan was one of the glitzy A-listers starring in this week’s star-studded Marks & Spencer ad, he was a young boy studying at fashion college in Yorkshire. Pictured when he was younger

Tan went on to discuss the first time he bleached his skin at the age of nine due to being 'ashamed of my ethnicity and colour'. Pictured as a child

Tan went on to discuss the first time he bleached his skin at the age of nine due to being ‘ashamed of my ethnicity and colour’. Pictured as a child

Tan also explained how a gang of men had attacked him while he was on his way to school because he was Pakistani.

‘As an Asian, gay Muslim I was desperate to get away. I have been concerned about my skin colour from the day I was born,’ he admitted.

‘Growing up in Doncaster I always felt unsafe. I thought if I had whiter skin I wouldn’t be called a P*** every day.

‘I used to wake up thinking, “What trouble is my skin going to get me into today?”. It was about survival. Being able to get home without being attacked.’

In his Beauty and the Bleach documentary, Tan opened up about a time he was attacked and left injured the first time he had tried to go to school on his own.

‘My mum always made it clear, walk next to white women – if you walk next to white women, you’ll be safer,’ he said.

‘But I didn’t really understand why, I just thought she was being overprotective.

‘And these men – they were men to me, they were definitely over 18 – decided that they were going to chase me and then kicked the s**t out of me. I was five, I was left alone afterwards.

Tan pictured in a star-studded, glitzy Christmas ad for Marks & Spencer, which came out yesterday

Tan pictured in a star-studded, glitzy Christmas ad for Marks & Spencer, which came out yesterday

Tan says that Queer Eye 'has given him more than he'll ever know', with the call from Netflix coming just as he was ready to put his feet up and retire around 2017

Tan says that Queer Eye ‘has given him more than he’ll ever know’, with the call from Netflix coming just as he was ready to put his feet up and retire around 2017

‘I knew the warning obviously to run and find a woman and obviously you hear the calls coming so you start to s**t yourself when you can hear somebody calling you a P*** from a distance. But these f***ers are faster than me, obviously, I was a child.

‘And I don’t actually remember what happened I just knew that somebody kicked me from behind. I don’t know if I passed out but I realised I was on the floor and I had to get home.’

Tan went on to discuss the first time he bleached his skin at the age of nine due to being ‘ashamed of my ethnicity and colour’.

The TV star became aware of his skin tone as young as three or four and had access to bleach a few years later.

He continued: ‘When I was nine I stole my sister’s bleaching cream and did it behind a locked door. It really stung. And then it felt like really bad sunburn.

‘I did it again when 16 – ashamed of my ethnicity and colour. I know now bleaching is a form of self-harm.’

Tan also struggled to come to terms with his sexuality – despite understanding, early on, that he was gay.

‘It was men I was attracted to and loved, so it stood to reason that I would eventually marry one’, he said in his book, Naturally Tan: A Memoir, published by St. Martin’s. ‘I always knew that women weren’t for me’.

Tan was the youngest of five children born to Pakistani parents who had moved to the UK in their teens.

In the memoir, he opened up about enjoying playing with Barbies and listening to Kylie Minogue as a child.

He admitted he had difficulty crossing his legs like men do and ‘struggled pretending to give a s**t about watching football on TV, when I clearly wanted to watch reruns of Golden Girls and hang out on the lanai and eat cheesecake with those broads’.

Tan said that ‘the word ‘gay’ was never mentioned in the household’, but he had felt outside pressures to self-police his behaviour, making sure not to make his preference for more traditionally feminine things too obvious.

‘I was frightfully aware that if everybody said I was obsessed with this, it might lead to negative consequences,’ he told The Guardian in 2019.

My dad might have learned it “isn’t right” for his Pakistani son. So I didn’t play with the doll’s house when other people were around.’

Tan’s father passed away when he was 13. Tan also told the outlet that he eventually came out to friends and family after getting his first boyfriend while at college, admitting it was ‘shocking’ for them, but that he understood they needed time to adjust. 

START IN FASHION

Despite his difficult past, Tan has always found inspiration and comfort in fashion. 

Speaking to Omika in 2014, the star revealed that he ‘first decided he wanted to be in the industry when he was around seven’. 

‘My grandparents owned a factory in the North of England, which produced denim products for Disney,’ he explained.

‘I used to help out every summer, and loved it. I learnt to sew, and took that experience with me to fashion college, when I was 18.

‘I then started working for the largest International clothing retailer, Zara, where I also learnt the operational side of fashion retail.’

Realising fashion was his true calling, he went off to college to study. Tan had more than 30 jobs between ages 16 and 27 – working for brands until he designed a small collection and went to China where he sewed his own samples.

Despite his difficult past, Tan - pictured as a young man - has always found inspiration and comfort in fashion

Despite his difficult past, Tan – pictured as a young man – has always found inspiration and comfort in fashion

Tan now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with his husband Rob, 42 - a former Mormon cowboy - who he married in 200. Both pictured in the earlier days of dating

Tan now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with his husband Rob, 42 – a former Mormon cowboy – who he married in 200. Both pictured in the earlier days of dating

The collection became a massive success and he was suddenly handling three businesses.

Tan moved to the US in 2015, after beginning to work between there and the UK since 2008. 

His designs were purchased by Modcloth and Forever21, and, by 2017 – at 33 – he was ready for retirement.

‘I would love to say that I could give you an easy answer, but there’s no easy answer,’ he told Refinery29 when discussing his success.

‘But what I will say is this: I made, in my opinion, sound business decisions.’

QUEER EYE AND BEYOND

Tan says that Queer Eye ‘has given him more than he’ll ever know’, with the call from Netflix coming just as he was ready to put his feet up around 2017.

‘I wasn’t qualified. I’d never been on TV before. It made no sense to give this complete novice this high-profile show,’ he told The Guardian.

However, he was keen to ‘represent my community in a way that I had never seen’.

‘I’m not just talking about the gay community, I’m talking about the Asian community,’ he said.

The show’s format sees The Fab Five – Tan, Jonathan Van Ness, Antoni Porowski, Karamo Brown and Bobby Berk – helping people feel more confident by making over their lives. 

The show's format sees The Fab Five helping people feel more confident by making over their lives. Pictured from left to right: Karamo Brown, Antoni Porowski, Jonathan Van Ness, Bobby Berk and Tan

The show’s format sees The Fab Five helping people feel more confident by making over their lives. Pictured from left to right: Karamo Brown, Antoni Porowski, Jonathan Van Ness, Bobby Berk and Tan

They tackle everything from make-up, fashion, hair, interiors, food and self-love. 

Tear-jerking episodes see everyone from the hosts, contestants and viewers get emotional at the transformations. 

Tan is a fan-favourite for his friendly and confidence-building approach to personal styling, often keeping his recommendations close to the contestants’ comfort zones.

It wasn’t long before Tan shot to stardom as a fashion icon. 

In 2020, he also became a co-presenter on Next in Fashion, a reality show for designers all over the world. 

Alexa Chung was his co-host for the first season, but was replaced by Gigi Hadid last year. 

In 2018, he was the host of the E! Live red carpet for the Oscars.

Snaps of Tan in 2019 show the star snapping a selfie with Kerry Washington at the Emmy’s afterparty. He’s been pictured with everyone from Cheryl Cole to British Vogue star Edward Enninful. 

In 2020, he also became a co-presenter on Next in Fashion, a reality show for designers all over the world. Pictured with pal and co-host Gigi

In 2020, he also became a co-presenter on Next in Fashion, a reality show for designers all over the world. Pictured with pal and co-host Gigi 

Alexa Chung was on with him for the first season, but was replaced by Gigi Hadid last year. Tan and Alexa pictured in 2020

Alexa Chung was on with him for the first season, but was replaced by Gigi Hadid last year. Tan and Alexa pictured in 2020

He's been pictured with everyone from Cheryl Cole to British Vogue star Edward Enninful (right). Also pictured: Sabrina Elba (second right) and Tania Fares (left)

He’s been pictured with everyone from Cheryl Cole to British Vogue star Edward Enninful (right). Also pictured: Sabrina Elba (second right) and Tania Fares (left)

Snaps of Tan in 2019 show the star snapping a selfie with Kerry Washington at the Emmy's afterparty

Snaps of Tan in 2019 show the star snapping a selfie with Kerry Washington at the Emmy’s afterparty

Even Jon Bon Jovi asked to take a photo with him, the New York Post reported. 

The star had also told the outlet how he got ‘55,000 new Instagram followers within a week’ after starting on Queer Eye.

‘I’ve received at least 8,000 [direct messages] from people all over the world — the Middle East, Africa, Asia — saying, “You just don’t know what you’ve done for us”,’ he added.

‘I do represent a certain community that is usually going through a real fight to be themselves.’

Tan – who has also attended prestige industry events like New York Fashion Week – is also the host of the UK’s Say Yes to the Dress.

FATHERHOOD AND BEING A HUSBAND 

In Spring this year, Tan and his husband Rob revealed they were ‘over the moon’ to welcome their second child.

The couple announced they were expecting the new addition to their family in the summer, People revealed. 

The Queer Eye star found out their surrogate was pregnant around Christmas

‘It was the best feeling ever. I mean, it felt almost as shocking as the first time,’ he said.

‘I was overjoyed, in tears, I couldn’t believe that it had finally happened again. It was just the most incredible feeling.’ 

Tan and Rob, who have been married since 2007, were already parents to son Ismail, who is two.

In Spring this year, Tan and his husband Rob revealed they were 'over the moon' to welcome their second child

In Spring this year, Tan and his husband Rob revealed they were ‘over the moon’ to welcome their second child

‘Welcome baby boy #2, Isaac France, born this past weekend,’ Tan wrote in an Instagram post announcing his second son’s birth in May. ‘He completes our little family perfectly.

‘And a huge thank you to our incredible warrior of a surrogate, for giving us the greatest gift one could ever give.’

Tan told the New York Post that the couple initially met on a dating site. 

‘It made it easier to date somebody who had similarities to me. I don’t drink alcohol, I don’t smoke,’ Tan said.

‘We practice some of our religions’ practices. We don’t practice them all. We practice what works for us.’

Although he has been tight-lipped about his family’s relationship with his husband, Tan in 2019 told The Guardian that they didn’t come to their wedding – but since Queer Eye, they had started acknowledging Rob by name. 

The fashion star has always been full of praise for his husband, and told the Irish Times that his memoir was dedicated to him.

‘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,’ he said.

‘I 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 or like I was a bunny boiler.’



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