Tan France had wrapped up work on his memoir a few months ago when a particularly tumultuous trip through U.S. airport security made him realize he hadn’t told the full story.
“I was very rudely reminded of my color and my name being a Muslim name,” said the “Queer Eye” fashion expert, whose full name is Tanveer Wasim France. “I thought, ‘OK, this really should be in the book. I want to speak for people who don’t get an opportunity to speak up.’ ”
France said he’s been steered into airport holding rooms for additional screening at least 24 times. “Naturally Tan,” which hit shelves this month, now includes a chapter titled “9/11” that confronts racial profiling. The memoir doesn’t shy away from other difficult subject matter, including France’s complicated childhood and the depression he experienced while juggling ownership of three fashion businesses.
But “Naturally Tan” isn’t short on upbeat material, as France sweetly reflects on meeting his husband, a “Mormon cowboy” named Rob, and takes readers behind the scenes of the Netflix sensation that is “Queer Eye.” The 36-year-old also peppers the narrative with fashion and lifestyle insights, including do’s and don’ts for wearing jeans, key first-date tips and a rundown of the world’s best-dressed celebrities.
Q: This memoir opens with a chapter about your experience growing up gay in a traditional Pakistani family, and the racism you dealt with being raised in a small English town. How did it feel to revisit that?
A: That could’ve been tough for anybody who hasn’t resolved their issues, but I’ve made peace with how things were. It’s just ridiculous that it happened, that amount of racism, but it’s not something that still feels painful. The hardest part of the book is where I talk about my businesses, and how at one point it made me feel truly suicidal. That’s the only time I really struggled writing a chapter. Talking through those feelings [with contributing writer Caroline Donofrio] and reliving those moments was really, really hard.
Q: You also recall going to “Queer Eye” creator David Collins early during the Season 1 shoot and offering to leave because you felt you were ruining the show. What do you hope readers take away from understanding that self-doubt?
A: I’m not the kind of person who was raised in a family [that says], “You can do anything!” I’m definitely not American. I’m British and also South Asian, which means I always think I’ll fail miserably until somebody actually does hold a mirror up and shows that I’m able to do this. When you’ve never been in front of the camera before, it can be terrifying, and I suffer from really bad anxiety a lot of the time because it’s all so new to me and I’m actually quite shy. I hope this encourages people to just step out of their comfort zone and try something they normally wouldn’t try.
Q: This also is a book with lifestyle tips, and plenty of wit and humor. How did you balance the tone?
A: I am very playful. Most people who know me know I’m seldom serious, so I wanted it to be a true reflection of who I am. It’s not very often you’ll find me talking about something super serious and not then be completely inappropriate.
Q: My favorite line was when you recalled going to an Olive Garden on your first date with your now-husband and wondered why the employees ask, “Are you celebrating anything today?” instead of, “What happened to your life that you’re ending up at the Olive Garden?”
A: Actually, that was the only one that my publishers were like, “Are you sure you want this to be worded the way that it’s worded?” Because I am denigrating them at that point. But it felt appropriate. I’ve thought it for the last 10 years — why do they ask that question? It makes no sense. So I’m glad you enjoyed it!
Q: You mention the possibility of new opportunities in the memoir, and then Netflix recently announced you’ll be co-hosting the competition series “Next in Fashion” with Alexa Chung. What made that show the right fit?
A: It’s my dream project. I love “Queer Eye,” and I hope that it will continue on for years and years and years and I will be allowed to be a part of it. But “Next in Fashion” is a real passion project. Me and Alexa get along like a house on fire. It’s a really fun, fast-paced show, and the designers are world-class. It has a feel of — I’m probably not allowed to say this, but I’m going to anyway — “The Great British Baking Show.” It has a sweetness to it that that has. I was so boisterous every time I’d get on set, thinking, “I can’t believe I get to do this for a job.”
Thomas Floyd is an entertainment editor at the Washington Post.