Big In Japan (And Elsewhere)

The Britons, unknown at home, who adopted a second language and became famous abroad
Street scene in Shibuya, Japan

In light of an increase in Britons moving overseas and seeking dual-citizenship as a result of Brexit, we here at Babbel have compiled a selection of the most successful UK-born celebrities who have become famous in another country (having adopted a second language), yet remain largely unknown in their homeland.

The list, compiled by our researchers, features British-born musicians, journalists, and other public figures who might have little profile in the UK, but – with over fifty-five million Instagram followers between them – are anything but unheard of  in their adopted far-flung places of work:

  • Ross Antony (Germany)
  • Danny Choo (Japan)
  • Ray Cokes (Belgium)
  • Mat Dan (Malaysia)
  • Louise Ekland (France)
  • Iain Inglis (China)
  • Tony Irving (Sweden)
  • Amy Jackson (India)
  • Katrina Kaif (India)
  • Mary-Jess Leaverland (China)
  • Alex Taylor (France)
  • Paul Taylor (France)
  • Darren Tulett (France)
  • Charlotte Vega (Spain)
  • Tanya Wells (Pakistan)

We interviewed a selection of these public figures, discovering how they came to be famous overseas, their secrets for finding success abroad, and how they assimilated into foreign cultures.

Ross Antony – Big in Germany

Age: 46

Place of Birth: Bridgnorth, Shropshire

Occupation: Singer and TV Presenter

Known for: After finding success in the German pop group ‘Bro’Sis’ in the early 2000s, Antony went on to forge a successful solo career, winning Ich bin ein Star – Holt Mich Hier Raus!, the German version of I’m a Celebrity, Get me Out of Here!, in 2008. He currently presents a number of shows on German television.

Speaking German:

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Antony comments: “I moved to Germany to work in musical theatre, but I couldn’t speak a word of German. So I was doing two-and-a-half hour shows playing the lead in German, not knowing what I was saying! I decided then that if I was going to be successful in Germany I had to learn the language properly.

I know my German is not perfect, but I think that adds to my charm – I think my ‘Britishness’ and dark sense of humour endears me to the German people. I love the country and I love the people – they’re very upfront so you always know where you stand. 

I think the fact that I had success early on helped. Working in the entertainment industry here is very different [than in Britain] – fans are far more loyal to the people they love in Germany, which is not always the case in the UK!”

Danny Choo – Big in Japan

Age: 47

Place of Birth: London

Occupation: Blogger, Presenter, Entrepreneur 

Known for: Born in the UK, Choo moved to Tokyo in 1999 to create ‘Culture Japan’, a blog which shares Japanese culture through in-house-produced English and Japanese-language TV shows. The show’s mascot, an anime character called ‘Mirai Suenaga’, became very popular in Japan in its own right. In 2007, Choo launched ‘Smart Doll’, a successful range of anime-inspired fashion dolls, with Mirai Suenaga as the flagship character. In 2013, the Japanese government appointed Choo as a member of the “Creative Industries Internationalization Committee” (CIIC). 

Speaking Japanese: 

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Ray Cokes – Big in Belgium

Age: 62 

Place of Birth: Isle of Wight

Occupation: TV presenter

Known for: Cokes (who worked for MTV UK in the ‘90s) co-hosted Tournée Générale with Jean Blaute in 2009, a ten-part exploration of Belgian beer around the world, with subsequent series airing in 2011 and 2013. He was also one of the three judges in the first Belgium’s Got Talent (2012-2014).

Speaking French:

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Mat Dan – Big in Malaysia

Age: 30

Place of Birth: Bristol

Occupation: Radio and TV Presenter

Known for: After moving to Malaysia in 2010, Mat Dan was approached to present a travel show after demonstrating his proficiency in the Terengganu dialect. Since then he has presented a number of other TV shows, including Mat Dan Kaki Jalan and Haramain Backpackers – Trans Siberian, and is currently creating his own clothing line.

Speaking Terengganu:

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Mat comments: “What makes me different from foreigners speaking the standard version of Malay is my use and mastery of the Terengganu dialect, a version of the Malay language specific to the east coast.

The transition to Malaysian culture wasn’t too drastic as I’d been backpacking around Southeast Asia before arriving here. 

I found an island off the east coast that had a really friendly, tight-knit community feel to it, which made it a lot easier. I’ve always liked to get a sense for the people, culture and language of places I visit, but Malaysia stood out to me as the people were so friendly and genuine.”

Louise Ekland – Big in France

Age: 42

Place of Birth: Liverpool, Lancashire

Occupation: TV and Radio Host

Known for: Ekland has covered a range of sporting events for French television (in French), including the 2009 FA Cup Final, the 2012 Olympics in London, and the 2016 UEFA European Football Championship. She also hosted La France à un Incredible Talent from 2014-2015.

Speaking French:

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Iain Inglis – Big in China

Source: Iain Inglis

Age: 37 

Place of Birth: Cardiff, Wales

Occupation: Singer and TV Presenter

Known for: In 2012, Inglis made it to the semi finals of China’s Got Talent by singing famous Chinese folk songs. Since 2019, he has presented a weekly travel and culture show in the province of Hainan.

Speaking Chinese:

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Inglis comments: “Until I moved to China in 2004, I had just had a smattering of Chinese, bits learned from textbooks or songs, phrases picked up from my girlfriend and her acquaintances. During my first year in the city of Suzhou in Jiangsu Province, I did not use my Chinese much, working as I was as an English teacher. After moving to Shanghai in August 2005 I worked for a German company whose working language was English.

During this first year-and-a-half, I associated mostly with expatriates and so my Chinese hardly improved. But I took the plunge and left the modern comforts of Shanghai in January 2007. I went to live at the end of China in the city of Sanya, Hainan Province, and began work in a five-star hotel in a guest-relations role, and my command of Chinese took off.”

Tony Irving – Big in Sweden

Age: 54

Place of Birth: Bury, Greater Manchester

Occupation: Dancer, Radio Host, and Presenter

Known for: Irving is perhaps best known for his role on Let’s Dance, Sweden’s equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing. However, he has also appeared on numerous radio programmes and has written several books, including ‘Tony Irving 10’ and ‘Live, Love, and Passion’.

Speaking Swedish:

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Amy Jackson – Big in India

Age: 28

Place of Birth: Douglas, Isle of Man

Occupation: Actress and Model

Known for: Having won ‘Miss Teen World’ in 2009, Jackson was cast as the lead role in Madrasapattinam, a Tamil period drama. From here she went on to star in numerous major films including Ekk Deewana Tha (2012), Singh Is Bliing (2015), and The Villain (2018).

Speaking Tamil:

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Katrina Kaif – Big in India

Age: 37

Place of Birth: Hong Kong (to English parents)

Occupation: Actress and Model

Known for: Kaif is one of India’s best-known actresses, appearing in such Bollywood films as Ek Tha Tiger (2012), Dhoom 3 (2013), and Bang Bang! (2014). She is heavily involved in ‘Mercy Home’, a charity run by her mother.

Speaking about learning Hindi:

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Mary-Jess Leaverland – Big in China

Age: 30 

Place of Birth: Gloucester, Gloucestershire 

Occupation: Singer/Songwriter

Known for: In 2009, Leaverland won the popular Chinese talent competition Min Xing Chang Fan Tian, after which she released her debut album ‘Shine’ in 2011. In 2016, she conducted a short teaching tour of Suzhou, Lanzhou and Hangzhou, China with the British Council.

Speaking Chinese:

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Alex Taylor – Big in France


Age: 63 

Place of Birth: Luton, Greater London

Occupation: Journalist

Known for: Before forging a career as a successful French radio host, Taylor first found fame on Continentales, a television news show broadcast during the 1990s and early 2000s. He is currently a political TV commentator and freelance journalist, primarily covering issues surrounding the EU and Brexit.

Speaking French:

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Paul Taylor – Big in France

Age: 33

Place of Birth: London

Occupation: Comedian 

Known for: Taylor’s comedy special What the F*ck France? (2016) was one of the first shows in English to be broadcast on French television. He has released follow up specials titled What’s Up France? (2017) and Stereotrip (2018). 

Speaking French:

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Taylor comments: “When moving to another country, you definitely need to learn the language to be able to fit in, adapt, and integrate into the country. I had a bit of a leg-up because I lived in France for a couple of years when I was a kid.

When you study a language, you don’t necessarily learn how it’s spoken in the specific place that you’re going to live. So if you’re going to Canada, for example, it’s going to be used in a different way than what you’ve learned.

Something I always say to people who are learning a language is, ‘Why do you want to learn that language?’ Is it just to be cool? Is it because you want to work in a country? If you find the reason and it’s a big enough motivator, then the rest comes by itself. If you have a specific motivator, the rest will follow naturally. 

I’ve got a friend here in Paris who has been here for close to 10 years and his French is still appalling. His life is in English because he’s an English teacher and his wife is French, but speaks great English. He now has a daughter who’s two and speaks better French than him. 

If I was to give one piece of advice to people thinking of moving to another country it would be patience. Understand that you will get annoyed, understand that you will get angry and just try to laugh at the difficulties, because otherwise you will go crazy.”

Darren Tulett – Big in France

Age: 55

Place of Birth: Shoreham-on-Sea, Sussex

Occupation: Sports Journalist and Presenter

Known for: Tulett was a presenter on Canal+, the French equivalent of Sky TV, for over a decade, before joining BeIN Sports where he currently works. 

Speaking French:

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Tulett comments: “I went to France on a whim. I had a friend who wanted to return to France after his gap year, so I went along with him.

I couldn’t say a word in French. I really started to get better when I got a French girlfriend. She didn’t speak much English, so I had to learn French to talk to her. When we broke up, it took me about ten minutes to work out that she was dumping me!

I was always attracted to the idea of doing something which was completely new. I really didn’t think I would stay in France long, but little by little, I started to read national papers and get a real feel for what people were thinking, saying, and doing. That’s when I began to realise that there are lots of differences between France and the UK. 

Thirty years later, I’m still in France – and so is the mate I came here with.”

Charlotte Vega – Big in Spain

Age: 26

Place of Birth: Madrid, Spain (to English parents) 

Occupation: Actress and Model

Known for: Vega has starred in several Spanish films, including 2014’s El Club de los Incomprendidos (The Misfits Club). In 2016 she appeared in Lo Que Escondían Sus Ojos (What His Eyes Hid), and in 2017 had a starring role in Proyecto Tiempo (Project Time), both of which were critically well-received.

Speaking Spanish:

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Tanya Wells – Big in Pakistan

Age: 31

Place of Birth: London

Occupation: Singer

Known for: Having attended an international school in Himachal Pradesh, India, Wells grew up knowing Hindi and Marathi. After attending musical school and touring various parts of Asia, she gained national acclaim in Pakistan after performing several spiritual songs in Urdu. In 2015 she created the band Seven Eyes with her now-husband, with which they continue to record and release albums.

Singing in Urdu:

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Wells comments: “I went to school in India from a young age, learning Hindi and Devanagari, the Hindi script. Along with our regular subjects we also had lessons in Indian classical dance and Hindustani classical music, as well as singing bhajan devotional music in various Indian languages daily.

Returning to the U.K at nine years old, we were thrown into late 90’s pop culture. My interest in Asian music really came later as a teen when I started listening to jazz and getting more into singing. I became very interested in vocal ornamentation, and returned to Indian music because I was interested in those ornaments and I wanted to learn how to do them.

I hadn’t actually set out to have a career in Pakistan or India. After putting a few videos up on YouTube, all of a sudden one went viral in 2015. It was an older song – a famous ‘Ghazal’, written by a seminal Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz – that I had covered in Urdu. 

It felt good to express, “Yes, I’m a huge fan of this music, this language and culture”. I want to learn more and I really appreciate how this music makes me feel and develop creatively.

Urdu is very much about pronunciation, and is slightly different to Hindi (which I’m more familiar with). You have different sounds in the language due to its Persian and Arabic elements. Since so much of my music with Seven Eyes is about storytelling and expressing music in various languages and emotions I’m passionate about learning new languages and musical styles. It allows me to express myself with a rich palette of influences. I’m still learning everyday.”