'Curry king' dead

Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the tributes to Lord Gulam Noon, who died today, aged 79, at the Cromwell Hospital in London after a brave battle with cancer.

By Amit Roy in London
  • Published 28.10.15
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Gulam Noon

London, Oct. 27: Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the tributes to Lord Gulam Noon, who died today, aged 79, at the Cromwell Hospital in London after a brave battle with cancer.

Noon, who probably did more than anyone to make Indian cuisine - especially chicken tikka masala - popular in Britain through his long association with the Sainsbury's supermarket chain, came to be known as the "curry king".

"I warmly recall my conversations with Lord Noon," tweeted Modi. "Had promised to meet him during my UK visit. He worked a lot to enhance India-UK ties."

"Lord Gulam Noon was a hardworking individual & distinguished industrialist," added Modi. "His affection for India was immense. Saddened by his demise."

As tributes poured in for Noon, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said: "Gulam was a great character, brilliant businessman and above all someone dedicated to our country and its future. He was devoted to getting those of different religious faiths working together and was a wonderful role model in the Muslim community. He will be deeply mourned."

Noon's funeral is due to take place tomorrow at Mohammedi Park Masjid, a Bohra Muslim mosque in Northolt, followed by burial in Hendon Cemetery, both in north London.

Although he was Baron Noon of St John's Wood in the London Borough of Camden, having been elevated to the House of Lords in 2011, he was almost university known as just "Noon" - indeed, he called his autobiography Noon With a View.

He was an entrepreneur who built a multi-million food business; cricket lover - he had a personal collection of well over 100 autographed bats and helped fund the establishment of the "India Room" at the Oval cricket ground (Sachin Tendulkar inaugurated its opening); and philanthropist who, among his many acts of generosity, built a hospital in Rajasthan.

The Noon Foundation has given away more than £5m. Those who have benefited include the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, the Prince's Trust, the British Library and the University of East London, where Noon was appointed chancellor in 2013.

He also did not mince his words in attacking Islamic extremism. When he visited Mumbai, more often than not he stayed at the Taj and was in the hotel in November 2008. When friends rang him on his mobile phone, he whispered terrorists were running around in the corridor outside his room. He was rescued from a window by the fire service.

Perhaps his greatest contribution was that he lit up the lives of all those he touched. Diwali never passed without Noon sending out hundreds of boxes of mithai from Royal Sweets, the brand owned by Bombay Halwa where he was a director.

The Labour MP and chairman of the home affairs select committee, Keith Vaz, summed up: "Today we have lost a giant, not only of the British Asian community, but also of British entrepreneurship. A decent, honourable and generous man, who was dedicated to his family, but also to his country, the United Kingdom."

"There are thousands of people in Britain, in India and throughout the world who have benefited from his enterprise, jobs he created, and his big heart," the MP said. "The world of cricket will also miss one of its most devoted followers."

"He was the epitome of everything a first generation immigrant can achieve, someone who literally came with nothing, but was also grateful to Britain for giving him the life chances to prove what an extraordinary man he was, whilst never forgetting his roots in India," he went on.

"Our community has lost one of its greatest stars," Vaz added.

The Los Angeles-based film producer Ashok Amritraj, who is currently in India, said: "Lord Noon was a wonderful human being whose great accomplishments were only matched by his warmth and personality. A great loss to all of us who are proud to call him our friend."

Sainsbury's stood by him when his factory in Southall, west London, was practically destroyed in a fire on November 14, 1994. Noon, for his part, refused to shed his staff although insurance refused to help him out.

His loyalty was repaid as he rebuilt and indeed expanded his business. He sold his firm to W T Foods, bought it back and finally sold to its current owners, Kerry Foods, who asked him to stay on as a non-executive director such was the value of his name. His factories were churning out 500,000 chilled meals a day.

Gulam Kaderbhoy Noon was born in Bombay on January 24, 1936. He father had died when he was nine and he was brought up by his mother. He first came to London in 1966 and eventually set up Noon Products in 1988.

He is survived by his widow, Mohini, and his daughters, Zeenat and Zarmin, their husbands, Arun Harnal and Manraj Sekhon respectively, and grandchildren.

Although he was one of the wealthiest men in Britain, he did not believe in hoarding his money.

On being appointed chancellor of East London University, he told the students of his view of life and his hopes for the Noon Centre set up to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit.

"I made up my mind that, yes, I will buy the best car, the best houses, send my children to the best schools," he admitted, "but I will carve out some of my wealth to give back to society. That is the footprint you are going to leave."

He observed: "When you die no rich man has been able to do business from the graveyard."

He called the Noon Centre "my footprint, not my houses, (and) not my factories - lots of kids can benefit (from studying at the centre)".

He foresaw a time in the future when "my children, my grandchildren, my great-grandchildren will come here, and they will remember me".