As one-fifth of the cast on Netflix's Queer Eye, a reboot of the mid-2000s Bravo hit Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, France has helped to uplift the spirits and closets of participants (or "heroes," as they're called on the show) in several rural towns around the world. Thet includes Kansas City, Missouri; Gay, Georgia; and the rugged Yass, Australia. Recently, the show even premiered a special miniseason based in Tokyo, Japan.
But when an offer came for France to appear as a guest judge for fashion competitions at Riptide Music Festival in Fort Lauderdale, the stylist's team was hesitant to send him to the land of Florida Man.
"The funny thing is that [when] the offer first came in to go, my team asked me gingerly," he says before lowering his voice to a quasi-whisper. "'There's this offer that came through for... Florida... Do you want to go to... Florida?' I'm like, 'Yeah, why are we saying it this way? It's fine, yes, that sounds great.' So, yeah, everybody seems to have the same concerns about me going to Florida."
France, who was born in Doncaster, England, but has lived in Salt Lake City with his husband for about five years, has never visited the Sunshine State. But his visit coincides with a South Florida Queer Eye weekend takeover of sorts. His castmate Jonathan Van Ness is bringing his comedy tour to the Fillmore Miami Beach the night before France is slated to appear at Riptide. Friday and Sunday, fellow Fab Five member Karamo Brown will make two appearances at the Miami Book Fair.
Asked how much planning went into bringing them all to South Florida the same weekend for separate projects, France says it's purely a coincidence. "Here's the thing: We are all over the place. I'm in a different city or state like three times a week. All of us are. So I have literally no idea where those boys are unless we're filming Queer Eye. But half the time, I don't know where I am."
France's pace of life has accelerated exponentially since Queer Eye premiered less than two years ago. In that time, all five castmates have become pop culture phenomena and taken on a slew of personal projects even as they've pumped out four seasons and a bonus miniseason of the show. France also released his memoir, Naturally Tan, and launched his own YouTube series, Dressing Funny. Then there's his ongoing university speaking tour. All told, he says, he's home only about two to three days a month.
With that kind of breakneck schedule, it stands to reason France has little time for the kind of self-care he and his costars preach to Queer Eye heroes in each episode. But the stylist says there's no reason for fans to worry.
"A lot of people do seem concerned about our mental health and our mental well-being," he says with a slight chuckle. He's been asked about the perils of maintaining this brutal work schedule, particularly after he revealed in his memoir about a time when work stresses drove him to a mental breaking point.
Fortunately, France says things are very different now.
"The time when I felt my worst and felt like I was suffering from a bout of depression was [from] such intense pressure from business," he says, "which, for me, is quite different from this because so much of it was financial stress and knowing that I had the burden of other people's finances on my head... That kind of stress is unbearable for me — knowing that I'm responsible for other people."
According to France, the circumstances that bred his breakdown have now changed. "If I've had a long day, it's my long day. If I'm exhausted, it's my exhaustion. I don't feel that kind of stress or depression or anxiety for myself as I used to." And when those feelings do reemerge, he says that's when the self-care comes in. "The way I get through that — I'm a simple man. The boys, if you were to ask any of them who is the most simple, I'm sure they would say me. I don't go out; I don't do stuff. I couldn't be further from cool or interesting because I like to sit at home and bake. That's my idea of self-care and downtime. I spend time with my husband. I don't usually leave the home. I'm in pajamas — the nicest pajamas I can find — but I live a very simple, simple life."
France adds that growing up in the United Kingdom as the son of Muslim Pakistani immigrants prepared him for a life of hustling. Before Queer Eye came calling, he was a successful business owner who had a credible plan for retiring in his mid-30s. "I've had stressful jobs since I was 18, 19, 20," the 36-year-old says. "I've always had a more demanding job than most people my age. I became relatively financially successful quite young, and so I've always been in a position where the stakes are high."
Now, in his role as a fashion guru on Queer Eye, France is breaking new ground. He's one of the first openly gay Muslims on television, on a show that's streamed in 190 countries no less. In Naturally Tan, France opens up about the racist attacks — some physical — that he and his family endured when he was growing up in late-'80s England.
"In my opinion, the pressure for the children of immigrants is so, so, so great," he says. "For anybody who's not the child of an immigrant, I don't think they can comprehend the pressure we're under. Our parents gave up everything for the hope of a better life for their future generations. And so you do feel pressure to make sure that you live up to that. And sometimes that pressure can be so stifling you completely move away from success... But then there are some [people] who really do lean in and think, OK, I do need to find a way to make sure my parents and everybody else like my parents understand that it was worth that fight. It was worth the danger of coming over here. It's worth the racism and hate that they get from the nationals of that country."
France says his success was fueled by the desire to validate his parents' sacrifices. "I felt that pressure so greatly. I still feel that pressure so greatly. Somebody asked me recently: 'Do you think your mom would be proud?' Yes, I'm sure she would be. [But] I wouldn't ask her, because I know I've got so much more to prove. I want her to feel proud of my success. Would I say I'm successful in my mother's eyes? No, I could do more."
Tan France at Riptide Music Festival. Saturday, November 23, at Fort Lauderdale Beach Park, 1100 Seabreeze Blvd., Fort Lauderdale; 888-704-1309; riptidefest.com. Tickets cost $34 to $199.