There are a lot of miserable men out there who are living a life they don’t want to live, says Tan France.
Born in Doncaster in the UK but now living in Utah, the fashion designer is trying to address masculinity issues.
His show, Queer Eye, is about “bridging the divide between people who have never met gay people before and us”.
“Let’s call a spade a spade, all of us boys on the show are liberals and the people we are meeting are mostly Republicans.”
A remake of 2003’s Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, the Netflix show features the “Fab Five” as they give a makeover to someone who has been nominated by friends and family.
“It’s more about connection and positivity than just, ‘Let’s make them pretty’. It’s nice to be able to show we can find connection even though we come from very different political viewpoints,” France says.
But would he have US President Donald Trump on the show?
“The short answer is no.”
France says he couldn’t “care less about his appearance”, but would only allow the US President on if it meant “he’d actually have to spend a week with me and see me as an actual person”.
Men struggling with masculinity is a “global issue”, he says. Men are “feeling like they can’t articulate what they’re truly feeling and they have to conform to what’s expected of a man.
“We offer a platform for them to share their stories and to encourage other men to open up.”
The first two series were filmed in the US state of Georgia. The third series, released later this month, was filmed in Missouri.
“The very first episode, I had a very honest conversation with somebody who assumed I was a terrorist just because I’m Pakistani and I was raised Muslim,” says France.
“He didn’t mean it in a mean way, it was an actual question. He didn’t know how to separate the two. That comment didn’t make it into the episode. I don’t think America was ready to hear that. By the end of that episode he saw me as his equal.”
The show is streamed in 190 countries around the world, including in some where five openly gay men on television would not normally be allowed.
“I wanted to be visible in countries where they do not have the same rights as we do in the US and the UK. I wanted to offer a version of a gay man that is not a caricature or a stereotype. We talk about our marriages, our children, our mental health.”
But what about UK television? Has it gone far enough in terms of diversity? Recently there have been calls for Strictly Come Dancing and Love Island to feature same-sex couples.
“We don’t do well here,” France says. “We don’t champion diversity anywhere near as much as we should.”
France now lives in Utah, having moved to the US 11 years ago. It’s a very “passive state” so he seldom receives any racist or homophobic abuse. “I do experience it way more in the UK.”
They’re yet to film the show in the UK. “I am almost positive the reason I might be fired from Netflix is because they’re so sick of receiving that email from me saying, ‘Please let’s go to South Yorkshire, please let’s go to South Yorkshire.'”
But they have recently returned from filming episodes in Japan. “They are known to be some of the most repressed people on the planet,” says France.
“They do not talk about their emotions whatsoever. They are the most powerful episodes we’ve ever shot. Because they’ve never had a frank conversation before and we help facilitate that.”
As he leaves the building he takes selfies with fans. He now has more than two million followers on Instagram and agrees there is a pressure and responsibility that comes with that.
“I have been seeing for many years now 18-year-old boys who are ripped [on Instagram]. They didn’t look like that when I was that age, I didn’t feel that pressure because nobody looked like a supermodel. But now that seems to be the standard. I think that pressure applies to men and women.”