Tan France: Doncaster-born Queer Eye stylist on how childhood play shaped who he is today

Tan France admits his fondness for routine has ramped up since becoming a parent. The Doncaster-born stylist and TV presenter, who rose to fame on Netflix series Queer Eye, credited the family’s “particular” regiment for helping maintain a sense of calm.
Tan France is supporting the LEGO Group's new 'Play Is Your Superpower' campaign. Photo: The LEGO Group/PA.Tan France is supporting the LEGO Group's new 'Play Is Your Superpower' campaign. Photo: The LEGO Group/PA.
Tan France is supporting the LEGO Group's new 'Play Is Your Superpower' campaign. Photo: The LEGO Group/PA.

“I am the most Type A person you’ll probably ever meet,” France, 40, says. “My children run on a regiment that is so militant, so particular...They wake up at a certain time, they eat at a certain time, they nap at a certain time,” adds the style guru, who has two young sons – Ismail, two, and baby Isaac – with husband Rob.

“What I found through the research we’ve been doing since we had children is lack of consistency creates tension in the child’s mind and makes it more difficult for them to understand the parameters,” France continues. “With routine, [Ismail] really is able to then be free in the times where he doesn’t have to go to sleep or eat.”

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France, whose TV credits also include Say Yes To The Dress, is known for his calming presence on screen. On Queer Eye – which sees France and his co-stars guide people through a life transformation – he helps people reconnect with themselves and discover their confidence. Getting to where he is today has taken a lot of work – but France credits his childhood as playing a big role too.

“I came from a very traditional South Asian family – by South Asian I mean Pakistani – and to speak very frankly, we were quite poor. So we didn’t have access to a lot of toys; we had outdoor space – that was our way of playing. My mum was a very keen gardener, and used to plant the most beautiful gardens – and every year around spring, she’d let me pick the flowers. So, much of my play was centred around what I could do with these flowers,” France recalls. “My play wasn’t just: I’m going to play with something. It was: I’m going to play with this thing and turn it into something. I think that was the most valuable form of learning for me.”

It’s why he agreed to team up with Lego for a campaign called Play is Your Superpower. A global study by the brand found a third of children are spending less than three hours per week playing – less time than most adults spend on their phones. The survey of 21,180 parents with children aged six to 12 also found 70 per cent of parents prioritise ‘achievement-based’ activities – such as sports clubs or learning a language – over play, in the belief this will lead to greater success in the future.

“With my kids, play is so important to us,” France says, “and it was so important to my parents with us kids and it’s how I became who I am today. We were big on education but they understood the importance of play also, because it really encouraged my creativity. I think if I wasn’t as playful as I was as a kid, I wouldn’t have been able to achieve all I’ve achieved to this point. Education and all those other components are incredibly important. But play and being creative can unlock something in a child’s mind that academia can’t possibly do.”

- Visit Lego.com/SuperpowerOfPlay.