HUNDREDS of mourners from around the North-East turned out yesterday to pay their last farewell to the region’s curry king Abdul Latif.
Worshippers from three separate mosques joined friends, family and political colleagues to remember the man whose Rupali restaurant in Newcastle’s Bigg Market – later named Curry Capital – became legendary around the country.
Mr Latif died at the weekend at the age of 52, shocking customers and friends alike. Yesterday his son Kukon led the tributes in a ceremony at the Bangladeshi Community Centre in Benwell, Newcastle.
He said: “He did a lot for the community, but not many people know what he did as a father. This is probably the hardest thing I have ever had to do, and I will always be proud of him.
“He loved us more than anything else in the world and I will miss him more than words can describe.
“Please pray for my father today and forgive him if he has offended you.”
After reading comments prepared by his sisters, Kukon then allowed mourners to pay their last tributes over the open casket.
Draped in green cloth, the coffin was carried on the shoulders of those at the funeral before being taken to Lemington, Newcastle, where he was buried. Attending was Lord Mayor of Newcastle, Coun Peter Arnold, who spoke fondly of Mr Latif, who was an active member of the Liberal Democrats.
He said: “As Lord Mayor of Newcastle, I am here on behalf of all the people of our great city.
“Abdul Latif was a man who believed that, whatever we do in this life, part of our role is to do good and help others.
“He was a very good role model and he was always keen, whatever our beliefs were, that we should overcome the problems that face the people of this world.
“Therefore, I ask you friends to pray, in whatever way is appropriate to you, to a man who made a difference and will be sorely missed.”
Mr Latif was renowned for serving what was billed as the world’s hottest curry at his restaurant in the Bigg Market, Newcastle.
He was also well-known through his generous charity work, appearances in the North-East based cult comic Viz and orchestrating the world’s longest-distance curry delivery, from Newcastle to Sydney.
Other publicity stunts included buying himself the title Lord Harpole and offering free curries to expectant mothers, members of the Armed Forces and Newcastle United season ticket holders.
He helped numerous charities raise funds at his restaurant and was a member of the Federation of Small Businesses, Northumbria Tourist Board, the Prince’s Trust and the Islamic Society of Britain.
Newcastle councillor Greg Stone said: “I’ve known him for years – had first heard about him through the pages of Viz, and it was a pleasure to meet the man in person.
“He was incredibly well-liked and we will all miss him.
“He was interested in politics and stood as a councillor a few times, but more than that he was happy just to support the Liberal Democrats.
“Away from politics, Latif was known across Tyneside for his ability to generate publicity and, of course, for his long-standing appearances in Viz.
“He was also a great supporter of charitable causes, and gave tirelessly to the Heart Foundation and helped the Bangladeshi aqua fund to get fresh water where it was needed most.
“He was a very big-hearted, friendly and generous man who will be greatly missed.”
‘Abdul Latif was a man who believed that whatever we do in this life, part of our role is to do good and help others.’
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Two encounters sealed Abdul’s fate
North-East writer and publisher Chris Foote-Wood has been writing a biography of Abdul Latif. Here is an extract from the chapter describing the future restaurateur’s arrival in England.
A CONFRONTATION with a woman who shouted racist abuse at Abdul and his father in Manchester changed his life for ever.
It was one of the reasons why Abdul Latif became active in the local community and in local and national politics to try to build a better society with respect for all.
Only a boy of 14, he made a fundamental decision there and then. He told his father: “This place is not for me. I am not going to stay here.”
His father understood the reasons for Abdul’s decision and accepted them. If he had not had somewhere else to go, his father’s attitude might have been different, but he did – there was his cousin in Whitley Bay and young Abdul was on his travels again to another place he had heard of, but had never seen.
Cousin Mokbul Ali was about 15 years older than Abdul. He had built up a successful restaurant business in the seaside town of Whitley Bay – the Ajanta in East Parade – and it was at Newcastle’s Central Station that Mokbul met Abdul off the train.
He had last seen his cousin four years previously when he was on a visit back home for a family wedding.
Thankfully, Mokbul did welcome Abdul.
Even more significantly, so did someone else – a kind and wonderful lady with a smiling face and a welcoming manner.
She was absolutely the opposite of the woman who had cursed Abdul and his father in Manchester, and she was the complete antidote needed to cure the boy’s deep hurt and any feelings of resentment or rejection he may have had.
Above all else, this “lovely Geordie lady” was the main reason why Abdul decided to settle on Tyneside and make his home here.
This lady ran the local sweet shop near where Abdul was staying in Whitley Bay.
Straight away, she smiled at him. “Here you are, bonny lad!” she beamed at him every time he made his purchase and it was balm to Abdul’s soul.
“All right, it was only two encounters, one very bad, one very good,” he said. “But that was enough for me to say to myself, ‘This is the place for me!’”
Abdul needed to enrol at the local school and went to the high school in nearby Tynemouth.
But the interview with the headteacher did not go well. Abdul’s English was far too poor, he said. Until he could speak English fluently, there would be no place for him at the school.
The kind lady in the sweet shop came to Abdul’s aid for a second time. Hearing of his dilemma, she recommended an English teacher who lived nearby and gave private lessons at reasonable rates.
He was on his way ...