King Charles visits Brick Lane

Guljar Kahn, owner of Graam Bangla, shaking hands with King Charles.

King Charles’ visit to Brick Lane was a historic moment for the Bangladeshi community and, while he was here, he stopped to collect some food at Graam Bangla restaurant. 

King Charles and Queen Consort Camilla were greeted by excited cheers from local residents as the King shook hands with Guljar Khan, owner of Graam Bangla and Masala

Khan first saw King Charles thirty-six years ago when he was just a baby. “My dad brought me to see him on his first-ever visit to Brick Lane in 1987, but I only saw him from a distance,” Khan says. 

When King Charles visited Brick Lane this year, Khan welcomed him into his restaurant. “The fact that he came into Graam Bangla, the most authentic restaurant a Bangladeshi man can own, was the nicest thing,” he says. 

Khan found the King very charismatic and polite. “It was amazing, I can’t explain the feeling,” Khan says. “You see these people on TV but when you see them live they have this unbelievable charisma, I think it’s God’s gift to them.”

He was also struck by the 74-year-old monarch’s memory. “His memory is genius. He remembered our names and he knew which ones were our restaurants,” Khan says. “The royals meet so many people, so for him to remember us was quite mesmerising for me.” 

In Graam Bangla, the King met with women involved in the British Bangladeshi Power and Inspiration organisation, set up in 2012 to celebrate leading members of the British Bangladeshi community. 

The King’s visit was led by Tower Hamlets Councillor Abdul Allah, and earlier in the day the King and The Queen Consort planted a tree in honour of Altab Ali, who was stabbed to death in a racially motivated attack in 1978. 

“It’s a once in a lifetime experience, isn’t it?” Khan says. “For him to come to our Bangladeshi community and recognise us is a special moment for us all.” Due to royal protocol King Charles wasn’t able to eat in Graam Bangla, but he had a cup of tea and took a takeaway of the national fish of Bangladesh, hilsa fish, with him to enjoy later. 

The visit was organised by the British Bangladeshi Power and Inspiration (BBPI) working with Tower Hamlets Council and Tower Hamlets Police.

Shafi Ahmed, Speaker of Tower Hamlets Council, said: “We are incredibly proud to welcome The King and The Queen Consort to our borough. We have seen today how much the Royal Family means to our residents, traders and schoolchildren.

“We believe Tower Hamlets offers the best of London in one borough with our mix of culture, communities, entrepreneurship and history. Our Bangladeshi community is an example of all those elements with Brick Lane at the heart.”

Khan says the King’s visit attracted new communities to Brick Lane’s restaurants and provided a big boost in trade. “Before his visit, Graam Bangla’s customers were 90% Southeast Asian, but now we’ve got about 40% non-Asian customers coming in,” Khan says. 

The King’s visit was a day that many on Brick Lane will never forget, and a testimony to the enduring relationship between the British monarchy and London’s multicultural East End.