Queer Eye’s Tan France used to bleach his skin at night time ‘to try and fit in’

Queer Eye star Tan France, 36, who is starring in The Great Celebrity Bake Off for Stand Up To Cancer, reveals the biggest lessons he's learnt in life, in his own words:

I wasn’t ever a cool kid with lots of friends.

I was very closed, quiet, and determined no one should figure out ‘the real me’. I knew I was different. So to protect myself, I pretended to be a straight, aggressive, average boy who liked football. Such a lie.

At home I was dancing to Bollywood music, fashioning a scarf into a dress, fantasising it was my wedding day and playing with my Barbie house. I am naturally flamboyant and can be open about that now.

Don’t live your life to please others.

You won’t be doing them or yourself any favours. Whether it’s your gender, sexuality, race or job, you will be happier living authentically.

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I came out when I was 16 and I wasn’t prepared to live a lie any more.

My life had been set out for me and I didn’t feel it was the life I wanted. So I moved from my home in Doncaster to Manchester, a big city where it was easier to be out surrounded by like-minded people. I came from a wonderful, supportive household and they got it. I’ve never looked back.

Find your own style.

I’d tell my 16-year-old self, ‘Stop spiking your hair! You do not have Caucasian hair, however much you try to spike it into submission, it won’t lift off your forehead in the same way as a white person’s!’ I treated my mum as my assistant stylist and got her to blow-dry it up for me.

The best piece of advice I ever had was from my dad.

He owned businesses and for ever said to me and my siblings, ‘Learn everything and do everything’. We used to roll our eyes and laugh at him, but he’s absolutely right.

What he meant was make sure you understand your business inside out and know what your employees are doing. It only made sense when I started my own business and was able to make it thrive, because I kept my payroll costs low.

Being domestic grounds me.

I’m obsessed with baking, and when I’m home I do it every day. Growing up I thought my mum was a great baker, but now I realise she is really terrible. She regularly made carrot cake, which was very carrot-y.

Now I like making it too, but prefer a much better, more American-style version. She taught me the fundamentals of how to mix the egg into the flour gradually, and was methodical, though, so by the time I was 12 I was baking and cooking for the whole family.

I jumped at the chance to do the Great Celebrity Bake Off , but it was more nerve-wracking than I expected.

My husband Rob makes me happy every bloody day.

We entertain each other and he makes me howl with laughter. I first met him online in 2008 and we have been married for almost 11 years.

Other people say things like, ‘I need a break from my husband so I’m going on a girls’ trip’. But I never need a break from Rob, I long to be with him, he’s my most favourite person. My relationship with him is the easiest, most joyful and constant thing in the world.

When people tell me their marriage is hard work, I think, ‘You’re in the wrong marriage’. Rob reminds me of what it is to be decent and kind – he’s a better version of me.

A good marriage requires good foundations.

In the early days I laid out my expectations and listened to his, and we openly discussed how we wanted the relationship to operate.

I am forthright, so I said things like, ‘Don’t do that again’, and, ‘Never do that’, or, ‘Don’t take that tone’. And I told him if ever he was frustrated, to tell me and I wouldn’t do it again. We were completely honest in the first year, which set the tone for our relationship.

I don’t drink or go to nightclubs.

I am not very religious in practice, though. My parents are Muslim and Rob’s are Mormon. We are spiritual and believe in our principles, but neither of us is very religious.

Children matter more than anything in the world.

I am the youngest of five children and Rob has seven siblings. We both come from very large families and I am DESP-ER-ATE for children. Desperate.

Originally I wanted six, but we’re too old now, so we’ve agreed to four. Hopefully in the next two years, once work has calmed down, we will start the process of finding a surrogate.

My granddad had the biggest influence on my career.

He owned a denim factory, and as a kid in the summer holidays I went there and learnt how to make jeans and denim jackets. I loved him very much, but we weren’t close, he mostly spoke Urdu and I mostly spoke English.

But he taught me how to sew and let me play in the factory. I used to tell him, ‘I’m going to be a machinist when I’m older’. In the end my career turned out a little different.

I had never been on TV before Queer Eye, but now I absolutely love my job, even when it feels very intense, because I love helping people and fashion is my passion.

The secrets behind my 'Einstein' school photo

I grew up and went to school in Doncaster, and this was a school picture but we were allowed to choose our own clothes.

Most children went casually apparently, but this is the outfit I went for, with the bow tie. Clearly I must have wanted to look like Einstein or something.

From a very young age fashion became a way of expressing myself. When I was a bit older than this, around 10, I went through a stage of using my cousin’s face-bleaching cream at night time to try and fit in.

It took years to come to terms with my heritage but now I’m proud of who I am. And yes my hair is naturally this curly, even now. I blow dry it out every day.

– Watch Tan in The Great Celebrity Bake Off for Stand Up To Cancer on Channel 4 at 8pm on Tuesdays. His book ‘Naturally Tan: A Memoir’ is available in bookshops.

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