Thousands line Brick Lane as King Charles and Queen Camilla stop by for a takeaway curry

King Charles and Queen Consort Camilla arriving in Whitechapel today Pic: Mekdes Kabeto

By Jamie Richards and Tom Terry; pictures by Mekdes Kabeto and Jamie Richards

Thousands gathered to see King Charles and Queen Camilla as they visited Brick Lane today – the first visit of the Monarch to the area.

The King and Queen Consort met with community leaders to learn about the local Bangladeshi community and East London’s anti-racism movement.

Other topics of discussion included efforts by charities in the area and the lasting impacts of COVID-19.

The King greeting crowds along Brick Lane Pic: Jamie Richards

The King started his visit in Whitechapel’s Altab Ali park, named for a Bangladeshi man killed there in a racist attack 45 years ago today.

Hosting duties were split between British Bangladeshi Power and Inspiration, Tower Hamlets Council, Brick Lane Business Association, and Brick Lane Jamme Masjid Trust

Brick Lane is famous for its trendy shops, eateries, including many curry houses, and thriving Bangladeshi and Southeast Asian community.

Crowds massing in Brick Lane under British and Bangladeshi flags Pic: Mekdes Kabeto

The British and Bangladeshi flags flew side by side along the barriers and between the buildings and traditional drummers and dancers paraded through the streets.

The King also showed his appreciation for Brick Lane’s famous multicultural cuisine by stopping at Graam Bangla – a curry house known locally for its authenticity – where he was given a takeaway meal.

Outside Graam Bangla restaurant, where the King stopped by for a quick visit Pic: Mekdes Kabeto

The King ended his visit at Brick Lane Jamme Masjid, an iconic 280-year old religious building in the heart of Brick Lane. Though currently a mosque, the building has been home to three Abrahamic religions in its history. Stepping inside, the King and Queen Consort removed their shoes as worshippers would, as a sign of respect.

Ayesha Qureshi MBE JP and Councillor Abdal Ullah are the founders of British Bangladeshi Power and Inspiration, an organisation which celebrates British Bangladeshi success through publications and campaigns. The two are married, and Qureshi is also a legal consultant.

Qureshi and Ullah walked with the King and Queen Consort along Brick Lane and spoke with ELL after the visit had concluded.

Ullah told ELL: “I’m really emotionally happy, delighted, ecstatic… a diverse group of people from Tower Hamlets came to meet their Majesties. Everything looked fantastic”. He added that he was glad a new generation of Tower Hamlets residents had the opportunity to meet the King.

Ullah also said: “I hope [the King] has gone away feeling Tower Hamlets is a great place, Brick Lane is a buzzing street with so much going on, and I’m thankful to my team but more importantly to the people of Tower Hamlets”.

Ayesha Qureshi (left) and Councillor Abdal Ullah walked with the King and Queen Consort along Brick Lane Pic: Mekdes Kabeto

“It’s been such an extraordinary visit” said Qureshi. She told ELL: “It shows an extraordinary level of commitment to the community here, and recognition of the plight of early settlers who really faced a lot of issues with racism here to establish the Bangladeshi community as we know it today. On the 45th anniversary of the death of Altab Ali it makes it even more poignant”.

The King planted a tree at Altab Ali park in Ali’s memory. Ullah said there are plans to name a building after Ali in his ward of St. Katherine’s and Wapping.

At the park the King and Queen Consort met with local dignitaries including the Speaker of Tower Hamlets Council Shafi Ahmed. 

Queen Consort Camilla outside Brick Lane Jamme Masjid Pic: Mekdes Kabeto

Crowds gathered for a surprisingly modest beginning to the King’s visit, with dozens of police officers guarding closed-off roads.

Along Brick Lane, however, thousands of residents, visitors, tourists and schoolchildren filled the streets, hoping to see the King and Queen Consort in person.

The Royal couple spoke and shook hands with the crowds along the iconic London street. Along the way, the King stopped outside Babel Grill House at the corner of Brick Lane and Chicksand Street.

Abdul Kadir felt hopeful that the Royals were keeping Britain’s multicultural communities in mind Pic: Jamie Richards

Abdul Kadir, who works at the restaurant, says the King’s visit is an important moment for London as a multicultural city. He said: “Especially in Brick Lane, being quite an Asian community and multi-cultural, it’s kind of an acknowledgement that we are still here”.

Kadir added: “It is important. Especially with him now being King it’s nice to know that he’s recognised everyone within the UK”.

King Charles, then the Prince of Wales, made his last visit to Brick Lane in 1987. His visit today was the first to Tower Hamlets by a reigning monarch since 2017.

Mihiri Evans and Eddie Stewart found their way into the crowd by chance Pic: Jamie Richards

Some onlookers found the celebrations accidentally. Mihiri Evans and Eddie Stewart, both from Southampton, were in London to visit the Truman Gallery. Evans said: “We just came here by accident!”. She also said: “It’s really nice to see them”, and shared feelings of positivity.

Photographers climbed on windowsills and archways hoping to get a shot of their Majesties leaving the Masjid towards the end of the visit. 

The visit may be part of the King’s efforts to publicly commit to inclusion and multiculturalism following accusations of racism by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in recent years.

It’s not the first step, either. In his Christmas message last year, the King mentioned by name the places of worship of the UK’s five major religions: “churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, gurdwaras”.

The King and Queen Consort’s next stop was the University of East London in Newham and later they met Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy on his first visit to the UK.

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