Francis Bourgeois has become a social media phenomenon.
The Englishman’s love of trains has seen him amass more than 27 million followers on TikTok as he shares videos laughing and championing locomotives on the British railroad.
Such is the magnitude of his popularity, the trainspotter's videos have seen him do morning TV show interviews and even a TikTok video with legendary retired footballer Thierry Henry in which he gifted him a train whistle.
But Francis’ love of trains hasn’t always been widely shared.
'I miss it': TikToker attempts to set the record straight
In addressing rumours he is trolling people or his love for trains isn’t genuine, Francis has given a small insight into his past.
“I’ve seen that people think I’m a troll and that I don’t actually like trains,” he says in a TikTok video he posted in April, showing off a model train set.
“But I love trains.”
The "special" train set is one from Francis’s childhood. He explains he used to play with it with his brother. A little boy in a striped T-shirt, presumably Francis, is seen shouting excitedly as the train moves around the tracks.
A photo of a younger Francis in a bathrobe is seen standing next to the set. Others show him from a few years ago in his high school uniform studying it.
“It was so much fun but I miss it. When I got older people made fun of my train set so I sold it,” he says.
“And I made these videos now so I can reclaim my love for trains.”
Francis, like many people, had trouble fitting in. He sold his trains and tried to hide his hobby out of fear of being mocked.
“Because I used to feel like I had to buy Airmax shoes and go to the gym just to fit in with everyone,” he says, sharing a photo of himself with a shorter haircut, sunglasses and a chain.
Another photo shows a shirtless, athletic-looking Francis flexing with a six-pack. It’s a far different look to what many are used to seeing Francis wearing – one of his many train uniforms and a hat with his long blonde locks or a button-up shirt.
“But I’m over it now,” he says.
He’s next seen on a railway bridge with a GoPro strapped to his head crying out in excitement as a train approaches him.
“I love trains so much,” Francis says as the video ends.
He later explained the train approaching him in the video actually did so in real time as he was recording the voiceover explaining his past.
“It was as if the universe made it happen,” he wrote.
'My mind is blown'
Viewers on TikTok reacting were both inspired and shocked by Francis’s change calling him “absolutely shredded”.
“That’s crazy,” one man wrote.
“Was that really you with the short hair and chain?”
Another man wrote “there is no way he’s the same person as the wannabe gangster we just saw”.
“My mind is blown,” one woman wrote.
Some suggested Francis used to be a “roadman” which is British slang for a young street gangster. It’s often used as an insult.
Others called it inspiring that Francis made the decision to ignore the teasing and finally embrace his love for locomotives.
“‘I’m over it now’ is one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever heard,” one man wrote.
Another man called on Francis to “keep being unique and yourself”.
“He looks like he came into his own,” one woman wrote.
“Seems like he felt he needed to look and act like others around him and how he’s just genuinely doing what he loves.”
Francis told London lifestyle magazine The Face in May he began train spotting as a child in northwest London and his parents would take him to Willesden Junction.
He said as he started secondary school he felt he needed to hide his interest in trains.
“Coming to university, I’ve turned a new page and allowed my passions to [flourish] and not be held down. It’s made me a lot happier,” he told The Face.
He hopes one day his passion will translate into a career in civil engineering – possibly working on railways.
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