- Words Rosie Byers
As his new show Say Yes To The Dress lands this week, Tan France fills us in on his hopes for the series and setting an agenda that transcends personal success.
From furiously dissecting Love Island dynamics in group chats to settling into the sofa to binge Selling Sunset into the early hours with your flatmates, reality TV has a way of sparking conversation, connection and bonding experiences like nothing else. But beyond escaping in on-screen drama and tiny expensive outfits, the shows that stand out place real, unbarred emotion at their centre. It’s these environments that Tan France thrives in – beyond a bright energy and presence on camera, we’ve watched Tan navigate high-stakes emotion with empathy and tact, balancing wit and gravitas to guide story arcs and shape our experience as an audience. Whether he’s delving into the nuances and context of personal style on Queer Eye or holding his own amongst the catwalk drama on Next In Fashion, you’d be forgiven for assuming he’s been an entertainer all his life.
Born in Doncaster, Tan initially dedicated his life to business, working for a range of brands before starting (and eventually selling) his own successful fashion businesses. Bringing a unique perspective to the entertainment world, his vision has always stretched beyond his own spotlight, and over the past five years he’s dedicated his platform to amplifying marginalised voices and unsung stories – both through personal projects and his shows.
As the new host of popular Say Yes To The Dress, Tan’s carrying this vision forwards. Chatting from his Salt Lake City home, he filled us in on his hopes for the series, setting an agenda that transcends personal success, and having Billie Eilish over for dinner.
This interview took place prior to the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike.
How have you been over the past couple of months? You’ve had your second child, that’s amazing.
Yes! How have I been? I think any parent who has two children will tell you, and especially within the first few months, I’ve been well but mostly just staying alive and keeping the child alive. You just kind of plod along and hope that it gets easier in a couple of months, and it does. So I’ve been really well, I’ve just been nesting.
You’re now getting to watch the work you made months ago finally come together and come out — how are you feeling about the premiere of Say Yes To The Dress? And reflecting back on making it, what drew you to the project and how do you think you’ve put your own stamp on it?
I’m so excited for it.
A couple of my big shows are reboots of shows that have been, and so this was the first time I was redoing a show that is still very much currently on air. The production company who was hoping to make it asked if I’d be interested and I said ‘Yeah, but the only way I’d want to do it is my way’. As arrogant as that might sound, I’m in a position where I get to be choosy and I get to say what I want to do and how I want to do it. So yes, I’d love to do the show, but I want to do it my way – which means I want to see people that I don’t typically see getting bridal. I want to educate the audience on who these other people are; I want to learn from this. I want to see people that I wouldn’t see on any show.
You’re in the position to be choosy about what you get to do, and you’ve also chosen to use that platform to talk about the things that you care about. You’ve spoken up for so many people in that process, whether it be through documentaries and TV shows or on social media. How has that experience been for you – having a platform to not just tell your story, but also to shine a spotlight on other people’s stories?
It’s the main reason I chose to be an entertainer. I don’t know how much you know about where I came from, but I wasn’t an entertainer – I’d never auditioned for anything. Then I was offered an audition, and I wasn’t interested, because I was a business owner and an entrepreneur first and foremost. But my husband, his name is Rob, reminded me: ‘The world has never really seen someone like you on a global platform before, and you might get to really steer how your people are perceived’. I was like, that’s actually a really good point. That’s what I want to do. And so I was able to show a version of a queer, muslim immigrant, a version of that that the world was able to respect – at least many people don’t, but many people do. They got to see a version of a person they had never really seen before, and hopefully in a positive light. That felt amazing to be able to be in a position to do that, so using my platform to continue that work for other people is one of the greatest joys of my career.
Were you the person at school people thought was going to have a huge platform – that ‘most likely to become famous’ yearbook photo – or was none of this ever on your radar?
No, not at all! If I was to be in the yearbook, I would have been most likely to be an entrepreneur or start a business. I come from a long line of entrepreneurs – not wealthy at all, but people who worked for themselves. That absolutely would’ve been the thing, because I talked about it for years at school saying ‘I don’t want to work for anyone else. I want to do what my family does, which is to create my own business, my own destiny’. But never in a million years an entertainer. I was quiet at school. I was friendly with everyone and nobody ever really caused me grief, but I definitely wasn’t the kind of person that was popular.
Thinking about the qualities that you have as a successful business owner – being a self-starter, having independence, integrity, a clear vision – have those qualities informed how you do your job now and why you’re good at it?
I know that I am somewhat unique as an entertainer; I’m told that by my agents and the networks I work with. I don’t think like an entertainer, I think like a business person: ‘How are we going to get this out there to as many people as possible?’ I understand the business side of it much more than I do just the show side of it. That comes down to producing also. Producing is basically being a good business manager, understanding how you get from A to Z. I think it’s that component that has made me successful.
Also, it’s the hustle of being a business owner. I was a broke ass business owner the first couple of years. I was self-financed, every penny that came in to the business was put back in to the business. That means I understand that things aren’t just going to come my way. I’m not try to denigrate anyone in my world, but I see a lot of successful entertainers waiting for their agent to call, whereas the reason I’ve gotten so much work over the last few years is because I come up with an idea and I pitch it out, or something comes to me and I say ‘No, but here’s a way we can do it and make it better’.
Also having your background in business, you’ve probably dealt with working with so many kinds of people and had to be a people person in that respect. So many of your shows that you work on, and your other projects, are very people-focused.
Actually that, I know for a fact, comes from my upbringing. South Asians are really social people. We’re really loud and we have massive families and we can talk as if it’s an Olympic sport. We would win gold! No-one can touch us when it comes to chit-chat and entertaining. We host people in our homes constantly – when people come to your home, you better entertain them. And so when we don’t see South Asians on TV it blows my mind, especially in the UK, where we’re the largest minority group. I just think, ‘How?’ We’re natural entertainers, you can put us on screen and we’re gonna talk.
Filming this show, was there any stand out conversations you had?
So many! Almost everyone was special, because as much as I love the heroes we have on the likes of Queer Eye or the people we have on Next In Fashion, these people are looking for something incredibly specific. It’s their wedding day, and therefore it means so much more than just a dress I put somebody in on Queer Eye. This is their wedding dress; the stakes are so high so it makes it a much more emotional process. There were many that I loved, but there were definitely stand-outs. Drag queen Plastique is a really good one.
Actually every Asian family we had in was a really memorable one because, again, we’re fucking loud. The Black families we had in were really entertaining ‘cause they were loud. Any person we had in that’s from a tight-knit community, and they were typically communities of colour, it was always a loud, fun, ridiculous day.
There’s so much variety in everything that you do, it must be great.
Do you know what’s really nice about it, honestly? I sit back and watch thinking I can’t wait for the world to see this and think: ‘I like that person. I like that Black woman, I can like other Black women. I like that muslim guy, I can like other muslim people’. That feels lovely to me.
Would you say that there’s always a greater purpose in every decision, and in everything that you do?
I will always have an agenda. Yes I want the shows to be entertaining and fun; I’m a clown, I love to play. But there is always an agenda with me. Always. And it’s a sneaky agenda. I think: ‘We’re gonna entertain the shit out of you, but whilst we’re doing that, you’re going to see this person as a human’.
We’re a music magazine, so I want to ask you…
Yes, I can sing! And yes, I will do a collaboration with Billie Eilish! Sure!
…If you and your Next In Fashion co-star, Gigi Hadid, were to start a band together, what kind of music do you think you would make?
Oh, I know that in a heartbeat. Because every time she sings something, it’s Disney. We’ve got kids very similar ages. Most of the time we’re singing Moana or Frozen. So it would be like a Broadway, musical-style song.
What would you call yourselves as a duo?
The band would be called the exhausted, we’re exhausted parents…
I will say that our personal preferences are very different from the songs that we will sing on set all day. They’re just the ones that get stuck in your head. My favourite is Billie [Eilish]. I love Billie.
She is an icon.
Billie sat at my dining table very recently and that was lovely, and then I went to watch her show, which was incredible.
Well, the reason why she came over is because with my first son, she was the first female voice he ever heard. And she was the first music he ever heard.
I know this is going to sound so lame, but because me and my husband her love music so much we played it in the delivery room and continued to play it. It was the only music we listened to for the first few months.
That’s so special. Even for Billie, she must have heard a million stories from fans over the years but you can never fully imagine your art being so much a part of those moments for people. It’s similar with your shows – it is entertainment, but it’s also an intimate experience for the audience. Especially something like Say Yes. My best friend’s getting married next year and we’re so excited to sit down with this series. It provides a bonding experience for everyone watching it.
It does, it really does. But that’s what music does. I went to a concert recently of a country performer called Kelsea Ballerini, and had that collective experience with people who were just blown away by her music. I think it’s beautiful.
Say Yes to the Dress with Tan France airs Wednesdays and 10pm on Really and is available to stream on discovery+.