Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock this year, you probably already know who Tan France is; one-fifth of the Fab Five from the popular Netflix show ‘Queer Eye’, proudly flying the British flag while sharing his famous fashion advice.
A couple of weeks ago, I attended Tan’s book tour in Manchester and listened to him chatting with Matt Edmondson from BBC Radio 1. Despite sharing the room with approximately 400 of Tan’s fans, friends and family members, it really did feel like an intimate catch up over coffee with an old friend.
He may live across the pond in Salt Lake City these days, regularly rub shoulders with Hollywood’s finest and appeared in Taylor Swift’s latest video, propelling him even further into stardom, but Tan still exudes that legendary Northern humour that feels like home.
I’m going to digress here slightly but stick with me. Tan France is the guy who singlehandedly managed to inspire my husband to clear out his wardrobe properly for the first time in our five year relationship. I was watching Season 3 of ‘Queer Eye’ when Adam rolled his eyes, asking what nonsense I’d put on the TV.
After a few episodes, he began to take an interest and later that week, came home to find Adam watching ‘Queer Eye’ without me (grounds for divorce? I think so). He then ditched his belts, colour coordinated his wardrobe and filled three black bags with clothes to make space for items that were more suited to his body shape. Suck it, Marie Kondo.
So, back to the book tour. On the show, Tan is sophisticated and of course, painfully stylish. In person, he is those things and so much more. Tan is funny. Like really fucking funny. He likes swearing and Nandos and loves Manchester as much as I do; I think we are destined to be besties one day.
We are both kids of the eighties, born just a few weeks apart in the spring of 1983, and grew up in working-class households in the North of England. We both mastered the art of texting ‘blind’ on a Nokia 6210 and skipped P.E classes to go off on more exciting expeditions.
But that’s where the similarities end. I’ve never been bullied because of the colour of my skin or my sexuality and this book made me check my own privilege hard.
Tan talked about growing up as a brown person in the UK and the challenges this posed. One particular part that haunted me was that, for a long time, he didn’t realise that the narrow-minded, downright racist behaviour of
fuckwits others towards him and his family was not ‘normal’.
On a lighter note, he also shared tales of casually jetting off to NYC aged just 17 without telling his parents, finding a seamstress to help him customise his clothes as a teen and his epic tactic of dealing with a workplace bully as an adult.
Random trivia – Tan was once ‘that guy’ on Market Street for a very brief period (my fellow Mancunians will know what I mean) but we’ll forgive him for that temporary blip.
He’s also a natural entrepreneur, setting up several fashion companies before retiring at the age of 33. He was ready to stop when, just a few weeks later, Netflix came a-knocking. We all know how that turned out in the end but it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Tan.
He talked about crying in the toilets every day whilst filming Season One of ‘Queer Eye’ and using a jade roller to hide the evidence before a particular conversation gave him the push he needed to stay. During the Q&A after the talk, the audience was a curious bunch.
Did Tan create the French Tuck? How did he meet his now-husband, Rob? Why did Tan insist on visiting Olive Garden on their first date? Who was the first A-lister to ask for a picture with Tan? Is his gloriously perfect hair au naturel?
The book answers all of these questions, along with a sprinkling of (occasionally brutal yet brilliant) fashion, dating and lifestyle advice, plenty of sass, sincerity and even a recipe for a banging homemade face mask.
I could hear Tan’s voice as I read through his easy, conversational style of writing, flitting from his past anecdotes, misadventures and experiences to the present day.
After the show, I was lucky enough to meet the man himself. Tan gave me a hug and told me I looked lovely, resulting in me fangirling hard and pulling a delightful series of goofy faces. I left the Dance House clutching a copy of the book with a smile on my face and my love for Tan France amplified.