British Asian

British Asians (also referred to as South Asians in the United Kingdom, Asian British people or Asian Britons) are persons of predominantly South Asian descent, and sometimes of broader Asian descent, who reside in the United Kingdom. In British English usage, the term Asian usually refers to people who trace their ancestry to South Asia, in particular the former British Raj and Ceylon (the modern countries of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives).

Since the 2001 Census, British people of general Asian descent have been included in the "Asian/Asian British" grouping ("Asian, Asian Scottish or Asian British" grouping in Scotland) of the UK Census questionnaires. Categories for British Indians, British Pakistanis, British Bangladeshis, British Chinese and Other Asians have existed under an Asian British heading since the 2011 Census.

Immigration of small numbers of South Asians to England began with the arrival of the East India Company to the Indian subcontinent in the 17th century. Indians came to Britain, for educational or economic reasons, during the British Raj, with most returning to India after a few months or years, and in greater numbers as the Indian independence movement led to the partition of 1947, eventually creating the separate countries of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The most significant wave of Asian immigration to and settlement in the United Kingdom came following World War II, with the resumed control of Hong Kong, the breakup of the British Empire and the independence of Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and later Bangladesh, especially during the 1950s and 1960s. An influx of Asian immigrants also took place following the expulsion or flight of Indian communities (then holders of British passports) from the newly independent Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania in the early 1970s.


In Britain, the word "Asian" most frequently refers to people of South Asian ancestry (Pakistanis, Indians, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans). This usage contrasts to that in the United States, where it is used primarily to refer to people of East Asian origin. The British Sociological Association's guidelines on equality and diversity suggest that "South Asian" is more precise than "Asian", and that the latter should not be used where there is a risk of it conflating South Asians with people from elsewhere in Asia.


The United Kingdom Census 1991 was the first to include a question on ethnicity (apart from in Northern Ireland, where the question was not asked until 2001). The question had tick-boxes for "Indian", "Pakistani" and "Bangladeshi". There was also a tick box, as well as a general "Any other ethnic group (please describe)" option for those not wishing to identify with any of the pre-set tick boxes. For the 2001 Census, in England and Wales, "Indian", "Pakistani" and "Bangladeshi" and "Any other Asian background (please write in)" options were grouped under an "Asian or Asian British" heading, with appearing under a separate heading. In Scotland, all of these tick-boxes were grouped together under an "Asian, Asian Scottish or Asian British" heading, and in Northern Ireland no broad headings were used, just tick-boxes for each of the Asian groups.

The 2011 Census questionnaire was more consistent with regard to the grouping of Asian ethnicities, such that Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Chinese and any other Asian background options appeared under a broad "Asian/Asian British" ("Asian, Asian Scottish or Asian British" in Scotland) heading in all parts of the UK. Shown in order, as listed on the 2011 Census form, the five categories of Asian British are:
  • Asian / Asian British: Indian, a reference to the South Asian nation of India, and British Indians.
  • Asian / Asian British: Pakistani, a reference to the South Asian nation of Pakistan, and British Pakistanis.
  • Asian / Asian British: Bangladeshi, a reference to the South Asian nation of Bangladesh, and British Bangladeshis.
  • Asian / Asian British: Chinese, a reference to the East Asian nation of China, and British Chinese people.
  • Asian / Asian British: Other Asian, a broad description suitable for specifying self-identified ethnic descent from South Asian nations without an exclusive category (e.g. Sri Lanka and British Sri Lankans), the same application for other East Asian nations (e.g. Japan and British Japanese) and British people of Central Asian and Southeast Asian heritage.

    Development in the 2010s

    In the course of the 2010s, usage of British Asian broadened in British media usage and in self-identification by British citizens or residents, to increasingly also include British people of heritage other than South Asia, such as East Asia and West Asia. In the 2011 Census, the two categories Chinese and Other Asian were listed explicitly under the broad heading and within the grouping of "Asian/Asian British".

    In 2013, BuzzFeed UK described JK Rowling's fictional character Cho Chang, which is named after a common Chinese surname, as a British Asian character. In 2014, the BBC described British former professional boxer, and multiple featherweight world champion, Naseem Hamed as British Asian. Hamed, of West Asian descent, specifically Yemeni, was listed alongside fellow Briton Amir Kahn (of South Asian, Pakistani heritage) as part of the "strong boxing pedigree in the British Asian community".

    In 2016, The Herald detailed how The Print Room theatre had failed to cast Chinese characters (referred to as "British Asian") in an upcoming Howard Barker play set in ancient China. The Scottish newspaper reported that "Characters include Mrs Hu, Lord Ghang and Lady Hasi but no British Asian character has been cast." The following year, the director of London-based company Yellow Earth Theatre, an organisation founded to promote and support actors, writers and directors of East Asian heritage, identified herself and the theatre's members as British Asian; "a great many wonderful, talented British Asian actors, but we get few enough roles as it is, because we're not seen as English". Filipino-born British actress Lourdes Faberes, who was described by The Telegraph as British Asian, starred in a parallel production ran by the Theatre company in order to promote and cast Asian actors.

    In 2019, British businesswoman Jacqueline de Rojas was recognised as one of 14 winners in the UK-based Asian Women of Achievement Award. de Rojas, who has Chinese heritage, was celebrated by organiser and founder of the awards, Pinky Lilani, who stated she was "truly proud of the positive impact these British-Asian women are making on the world today". In the same year, BBC Asian Network's Brown Girls Do It Too radio programme featured three British podcasters, respectively of Bangladeshi, Iranian, and Indian descent, which The Guardian reported as "British Asian girls talking about masturbation and blowjobs on a BBC platform". As quoted by HuffPost UK, presenter Roya Eslami, within the context of her West Asian heritage, specifically self-identified as British Asian.

    In 2020, Gemma Chan was described by the BBC as a British Asian actor. With both parents born in China, Chan also self-identifies as British Asian. As reported in British Vogue, she has referred to British businesswoman Sandra Choi, who is also of East Asian heritage, and is the creative director of British high fashion house Jimmy Choo Ltd, as a British Asian designer.


    The 2011 UK Census recorded 1,451,862 residents of Indian, 1,174,983 of Pakistani and 451,529 of Bangladeshi, 433,150 of Chinese and 861,815 of "Other Asian" ethnicity, making a total Asian British population of 4,373,339 (6.9 per cent of the total population), excluding people of mixed ethnicity. Due to a growing sense of affiliation with Britain, many third generation South Asians chose to not mark "Asian or British Asian" and instead marked "British Asian" in the "Other Asian" write in section.

    South Asian ethnic groups mostly originate from a few select places in South Asia, these are known as place of origins. East Asian ethnic groups are particularly represented by the Han Chinese in the United Kingdom. British Indians tend to originate mainly from the two Indian States, Punjab and Gujarat. Evidence from Bradford and Birmingham have shown, Pakistanis originate largely from the Mirpur District in Azad Kashmir. The second largest ethnic group of British Pakistanis are the Punjabi people, largely from Attock District of Punjab followed by Pashtuns and other ethnic groups from the districts of Nowshera, Peshwar and Ghazi in province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. In the London Borough of Waltham Forest there are substantial numbers of Pakistani people originating from Jhelum, Punjab. Studies have shown 95 per cent of British Bangladeshis originate from the Sylhet Division, located in the Northeastern part of Bangladesh. British Chinese people originate primarily from former British colonies, such as Hong Kong, but also from areas of Southeast Asia, where they were already diasporic populations.

    There have been three waves of migration of Hindus in the United Kingdom. The first wave was before India's independence in 1947. In the early 1950s the Conservative Health Minister, Enoch Powell recruited a large number of doctors from the Indian sub-continent. The second wave occurred in the 1970s mainly from East Africa. The later communities included those from Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Mauritius and Fiji. The last wave of migration began in the 1990s and included Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka and professionals including doctors and software engineers from India.


    The unemployment rate among Indian men was only slightly higher than that for White British or White Irish men, 7 per cent compared with 5 per cent for the other two groups. On the other hand, Pakistanis have higher unemployment rates of 13-14%, and Bangladeshis have one of the highest rates, around 23%. Some surveys also revealed the Indian unemployment rate to be 6-7% Persons of Indian or mixed Indian origin are more likely than White British to have university degrees, whereas Pakistanis and Bangladeshis are less likely. With the exception of Bangladeshi women, every other group of South Asians, have higher attendance at university than the national average. GCSE pass rates have been rising for all South Asians.

    In the UK South Asian population has higher rates of unemployment compared to the White-British population, and number of 16 to 64 year old's who were employed, by ethnicity showed Indians overall had the same ratio in employment as White-British at 76%. However those from Pakistani, Bangladeshi backgrounds have far lower rates in employment at 57%. The gap between men and women was biggest in the combined Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnic group, where 75% of men and 39% of women were employed compared to 80% of men and 73% of women amongst White-British.


    Chinese Britons speak the Mandarin, Cantonese, Min, and Hakka languages. The language spoken by Indians are, Punjabi, Gujarati, Kutchi, Hindustani, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam. People from Pakistan speak Urdu, Punjabi, Mirpuri, Hindko (dialects of Punjabi), Sindhi, Kashmiri, Pashto and Seraiki. Gujaratis who emigrated from India and East Africa speak Gujarati, Hindi, and Kutchi (a dialect of Sindhi), while a sizeable number of Gujarati Muslims speak Urdu for religious and cultural reasons. Bangladeshis speak Sylheti and Bengali. People from Sri Lanka speak Tamil and Sinhala. Those who speak dialects mainly refer their language to the main language, for example Sylheti speakers say they speak Bengali or Mirpuri speakers say they speak Punjabi. The reason for this is because they do not expect outsiders to be well informed about dialects.


    Asian Britons have significant numbers of adherents to various major religions. Based on 2011 Census figures for England and Wales (94.7 percent of UK statistics), Muslims account for 43% of the group, while Hindus make up over 18%, and Christians almost 11%. Sikhs constitute nearly 9% of British Asians, and 3.5% are Buddhists.

    British Chinese are mainly irreligious, with 55% of the population subscribing to no religion, 19% Christians and 12% Buddhists. British Pakistanis and Bangladeshis tend to be religiously homogeneous, with Muslims accounting for 92% of each group while their counterparts of Indian and Sri Lankan origin are more religiously diverse, with 55% Hindus, 29% Sikhs, and 15% Muslims. British Gujaratis are predominantly Hindu, belonging to various caste organizations, with large minorities of Muslims, Jains, and smaller numbers of Christians and Zoroastrians. Notable religious buildings are the East London Mosque, London Central Mosque, Birmingham Central Mosque, Baitul Futuh, BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir London, Bradford Lakshmi Narayan Hindu Temple, Shikharbandi Jain Derasar in Potters Bar, Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha in Southall and Guru Nanak Darbar Gurdwara in Gravesend.

    The publication of Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses in 1988 caused major controversy. Muslims condemned the book for blasphemy. On 2 December 1988 the book was publicly burned at a demonstration in Bolton attended by 7,000 Muslims, followed by a similar demonstration and book-burning in Bradford on 14 January 1989. In 1989 Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwā ordering Muslims to kill Rushdie.

    Britain is also home of notable Asian religious leaders and scholars. Some of them are Mirza Masroor Ahmad (Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Community), Sheikh Abdul Qayum (one of the best known scholars in Europe and Chief Imam of East London Mosque), Abu Yusuf Riyadh ul Haq (Khateeb of Birmingham Central Mosque), Dr. Mahmudul Hasan (Khateeb of Essex Mosque), Abdur Rahman Madani (Chairman of Global Eid Trust and Chief Imam of Darul Ummah Mosque), Faiz-ul-Aqtab Siddiqi (principal of Hijaz College), Ajmal Masroor (Imam and Liberal Democrats politician) and Pramukh Swami Maharaj (fifth spiritual successor of Hindu Swaminarayan).

    History in Britain

    The earliest date at which South Asians settled in Great Britain is not clear.

    If the Romany (Gypsies) are included, then the earliest arrivals were in the Middle Ages. DNA surveys have linked Romanies to present-day South Asian populations and the Romany language is a member of the Indo-Aryan language family. Romanies are believed to have begun travelling westward around 1000 CE, and have mixed with South-west Asian and European populations over many centuries. Romani began arriving in sizeable numbers in parts of Western Europe in the 16th century. The Romani who settled in Britain are known as Romanichal.

    The first educated South Asian to travel to Europe and live in Britain was I'tisam-ud-Din, a Bengali Muslim cleric, munshi and diplomat to the Mughal Empire who arrived in 1765 with his servant Muhammad Muqim during the reign of George III. He wrote of his experiences and travels in his Persian book, Shigurf-nama-i-Wilayat ('Wonderous Chronicle of Europe'). This is also the earliest record of literature by a British Asian. Also during the reign of George III, the hookah-bardar (hookah servant/preparer) of James Achilles Kirkpatrick was said to have robbed and cheated Kirkpatrick, making his way to England and stylising himself as the Prince of Sylhet. The man, presumably of Sylheti origin, was waited upon by the Prime Minister of Great Britain William Pitt the Younger, and then dined with the Duke of York before presenting himself in front of the King.


    When the Portuguese Vasco da Gama arrived in India in 1498, he opened a direct maritime route between South Asia and Europe. In the following century many South Asians arrived in Europe by sea as sailors, slaves and servants. Trade and English piracy brought some of these people to Britain and four South Asian men in London answered the call for sailors for the first English East India Company fleet to Asia. Their Portuguese names identifies them as mixed-race Portuguese Luso-Asians.

    Since the 17th century, the East India Company employed thousands of South Asian lascars, scholars and workers (who were mostly Bengali or Muslim) mainly to work on British ships and ports around the world. The first group of South Asians to migrate in notable numbers, in the 18th century, were lascars (sailors) recruited from the Indian subcontinent (largely from the Bengal region) to work for the British East India Company, some, despite prejudice and a language barrier, settled down, often forcibly after ill treatment and being abandoned by ship masters. Many were forced into poverty and starved.[] Letters to newspapers in 1785 talked of “the number of miserable objects, Lascars, … shivering and starving in the streets”. Some lascars took British wives, and some converted to Anglican Christianity (at least nominally) in order to marry, possibly due to a lack of South Asian women in Britain at the time. Most Indians during this period would visit or reside in Britain temporarily, returning to India after months or several years, bringing back knowledge about Britain in the process.

    38 lascars were reported arriving in British ports in 1760. Between 1803 and 1813, there were more than 10,000 lascars from the Indian subcontinent visiting British port cities and towns. By 1842, 3,000 lascars visited the UK annually, and by 1855, 12,000 lascars were arriving annually in British ports. In 1873, 3,271 lascars arrived in Britain. Throughout the early 19th century lascars visited Britain at a rate of 1,000 every year, which increased to a rate of 10,000 to 12,000 every year throughout the late 19th century.

    Due to the majority being lascars, the earliest Muslim communities were found in port towns, found living in barracks, Christian charity homes and hostels. The first and most frequent South Asian travelers to Britain were Christian Indians and those of European-Asian mixed race. For Muslim Indians considerations about how their dietary and religious practices would alienate them from British society were brought into question but these considerations were often outweighed by economic opportunities. Those that stayed often took British names, dress and diet. Naval cooks also came, many of them from the Sylhet Division of what is now Bangladesh. One of the most famous early Bengali Muslim immigrants to England was Sake Dean Mahomet, a captain of the British East India Company who in 1810 founded London's first Indian restaurant, the Hindoostane Coffee House. He is also reputed for introducing shampoo and therapeutic massage to the United Kingdom. In 1784 he migrated to Ireland where he fell in love with a woman called Jane Daly. He converted to Anglicanism in order to marry her, as it was illegal at the time for non-Protestants to marry Protestants. They later moved to Brighton.

    After reports of lascars starving and suffering from poverty the East India Company responded by making available lodgings for them, but no checks were kept on the boarding houses and barracks they provided. The Lascars were made to live in cramped, dreadful conditions which resulted in the deaths of many each year, with reports of Lascars being locked in cupboards and whipped for misbehavior (by owners) which was reported by the Society for the Protection of Asiatic Sailors (founded in 1814).

    In 1842, the Church Missionary Society reported on the dire ″state of the Lascars in London″ it was reported in the winter of 1850, 40 Asian men, also known as 'sons of India', were found dead of cold and hunger on the streets of London. Shortly after these reports evangelical Christians proposed the construction of a charity house and gathered £15,000 pounds in assistance of the Lascars . In 1856 The Strangers' Home for Asiatics, Africans and South Sea Islanders was opened in Commercial Road, Limehouse under the manager Lieutenant-Colonel R. Marsh Hughes.

    The Navigation Act of 1660 restricted the employment of non-English sailors to a quarter of the crew on returning East India Company ships. Baptism records in East Greenwich suggest that young Indians from the Malabar Coast were being recruited as servants at the end of the seventeenth century, and records of the EIC also suggest that Indo-Portuguese cooks from Goa were retained by captains from voyage to voyage. In 1797, 13 were buried in the parish of St Nicholas at Deptford.

    It is estimated 8,000 Indians (a large proportion being lascar sailors) lived in Britain permanently prior to the 1950s. Although, the comparatively few lascars that gained work often opened shops and helped initiate social and political community associations. Indians were less likely to settle permanently because of wage differentials. Due to the majority of early South Asian immigrants being lascars, the earliest South Asian communities were found in port towns

    The small, often transitory presence of Lascars continued into the 1930s, with the ''Port of London Authority mentioning Lascars in a February 1931 article writing that "Although appearing so out of place in the East End, they are well able to look after themselves, being regular seamen who came to the Docks time after time and have learnt a little English and know how to buy what they want."

    In 1932, the Indian National Congress survey of 'all Indians outside India' estimated that there were 7,128 Indians in the United Kingdom. It is estimated that from 1800 to 1945, 20,000 South Asians emigrated to Britain.

    Postwar World war II migration

    Following the Second World War and the breakup of the British Empire, South Asian migration to the UK increased through the 1950s and 1960s from Pakistan (including present-day Bangladesh), India and Sri Lanka (who are all members of the Commonwealth). Additionally immigrants from former Caribbean colonies (including Indo-Caribbeans) were also moving to Britain.

    Although this immigration was continuous, several distinct phases can be identified:
  • Manual workers, mainly from Pakistan, were recruited to fulfill the labour shortage that resulted from World War II. These included Anglo-Indians who were recruited to work on the railways as they had done in India.
  • Workers mainly from the Punjab region of India and Pakistan arrived in the late 1950s and 1960s. Many worked in the foundries of the English Midlands and a large number worked at Heathrow Airport in west London. This created an environment to where the next generation of families did not lose their identity as easily. An example would be Southall which is populated by many Sikhs.
  • During the same time, medical staff from the Indian subcontinent were recruited for the newly formed National Health Service. These people were targeted as the British had established medical schools in the Indian subcontinent which conformed to the British standards of medical training.

    Bengali social reformer and founder of the All-India Seamen's Federation, Aftab Ali's work is recognised to have helped thousands of Asian lascars to migrate, settle and find employment in Britain. He organised rallies and meetings with the likes of the Trades Union Congress. He encouraged lascars and seamen to remain and settle in the United Kingdom. In the 1950s, he founded the Overseas Seamen's Welfare Association which campaigned distressed seamen and their families to be granted British passports. Ali also played an instrumental role in the opening of a passport office in his own home in Sylhet.

    Asian migration from East Africa

    Beginning around 1964 Africanization policies in East Africa prompted the arrival of Asians with British passports from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. At first these were the people employed in government and administrative roles, but this was expanded to include those Asians engaged in commerce. The movement was called the "Exodus".

    In 1972, all South Asians were expelled from Uganda by the controversial figure Idi Amin, then president of Uganda. Those holding British passports came to Britain. Many such displaced people who were predominantly of Gujarati origins had left behind successful businesses and vast commercial empires in Uganda, but built up their lives all over again in Britain, starting from scratch. Some of these "twice-over" migrants became retailers, while others found suitable employment in white-collar professions.

    The Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962 and Immigration Act 1971 largely restricted any further primary immigration, although family members of already-settled migrants were still allowed. In addition, much of the subsequent growth in the South Asian community has come from the births of second and third-generation South Asian Britons.


    British Asians faced discrimination and racism following Enoch Powell's Rivers of Blood speech and the establishment of the National Front in the late 1960s. This included overt racism in the form of Paki bashing, predominantly from white power skinheads, the National Front, and the British National Party, throughout the 1970s and 1980s. British Asians have been historically subjected to forms of discrimination and racism since significant immigration into the UK during the 20th century. Drawing inspiration from the Indian independence movement, the black power movement, and the Anti-Apartheid Movement, young British Asian activists began a number of anti-racist Asian youth movements in the 1970s and 1980s, including the Bradford Youth Movement in 1977, the Battle of Brick Lane following the murder of Altab Ali in 1978, and the Newham Youth Movement following the murder of Akhtar Ali Baig in 1980.

    Notable contributions

    Arts and entertainment

    Several Asian Britons have broken into the UK film industry, as well as Hollywood, and the U.S. film industry at large; starring in high-grossing box office films, including major film series, and receiving subsequent international recognition and media attention. In television, prominent roles in American sitcoms, series, and long-running British soap operas, such as Coronation Street, EastEnders, Emmerdale and Hollyoaks, have all had a number of Asian characters portrayed by British actors of Asian heritage.

    Tsai Chin, the first Asian British actress to play a Bond girl, appeared in 1967's You Only Live Twice and the 2006 re-make of Casino Royale. Burt Kwouk, who appeared in over fifty films, including three of the James Bond film series, received an OBE for services to drama in 2010. Art Malik had notable roles in The Jewel in the Crown and The Living Daylights, and Sir Ben Kingsley (born Krishna Pandit Bhanji) is one of Britain's most acclaimed and well-known performers. Kingsley is one of few actors to have won all four major motion picture acting awards, receiving Oscar, BAFTA, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards throughout his career, including the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in Gandhi (1982).

    The actor Dev Patel, who played the role of Anwar Kharral in the teen drama series Skins, portrayed the leading role in Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire, for which he received several awards and was nominated for the 2009 BAFTA Award for Best Leading Actor. Parminder Nagra, who played a prominent role in the US TV series ER, starred in successful British film Bend It Like Beckham (2002). The actor Naveen Andrews plays the role of Sayid Jarrah in the popular US TV series Lost, and also had a prominent role in the award-winning film The English Patient (1996). Kunal Nayyar plays the character of Raj Koothrappali in the popular US sitcom, The Big Bang Theory.

    Gemma Chan and Benedict Wong have featured in the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise. Chan has had two starring roles in both 2019's Captain Marvel and The Eternals (2021), making her the first actress to portray separate characters within the cinematic universe. Wong, who has also appeared in two Ridley Scott films (Prometheus and The Martian), first appeared for a Marvel production in 2016's Doctor Strange, twice reprising the role for Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and End Game (2019), the latter of which is the highest grossing release in film history. Riz Ahmed has starred in both the Bourne film series and Star Wars saga, appearing in anthology film Rogue One. Star Wars, Marvel's The Avengers, the Bourne and James Bond film series are some of the highest-grossing film franchises of all time.

    Art and design

    Anish Kapoor is an Indian-born British sculptor. Born in Mumbai, Kapoor has lived and worked in London since the early 1970s when he moved to study art, first at the Hornsey College of Art and later at the Chelsea College of Art and Design. Kapoor received the Turner Prize in 1991. Born in London and of Asian origin, Shezad Dawood became known for this work in various media in the early 2000s. Also born in London and of Pakistani origin, Haroon Mirza emerged as an artist in the late 2000s. Best known for his sculptural installations that generate sound, Mirza was awarded the Silver Lion for the Most Promising Artist at the 54th Venice Biennale in 2011.

    Shahidul Alam is a Bangladeshi photojournalist, teacher and social activist. He has been a photographer for more than forty years and "his photographs have been published in almost every major western media outlet". Saiman Miah is an architectural designer and graphic designer who designed one of the two £5 commemorative coins for the 2012 London Summer Olympics.

    Theatre company RIFCO Arts has been producing and touring productions based on the British Asian experience since 1999.


    Well-known South Asian writers include Muhammad Mojlum Khan, Abdur Rouf Choudhury, Aminul Hoque, Shahida Rahman, H.S. Bhabra, Salman Rushdie, Ghulam Murshid, Tahir Shah, Gurinder Chadha, Nazrin Choudhury, Rekha Waheed, Hanif Kureshi, Monica Ali, Meera Syal, Gautam Malkani, Bali Rai and Raman Mundair.


    Since the 1970s, South Asian performers and writers have achieved significant mainstream cultural success. The first South Asian musician to gain wide popularity in the UK and worldwide fame was Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury, born Farrokh Bulsara in Zanzibar, East Africa, to parents of Parsi descent from Bombay (now Mumbai). In 2006, Time Asia magazine voted him as one of the most influential South Asians in the past 60 years. At around the same time, music producer, composer and songwriter Biddu gained worldwide fame for a number of hit songs, including "Kung Fu Fighting" by Carl Douglas and "I Love to Love (But My Baby Loves to Dance)" for Tina Charles. In the 1990s the South Asian artists who gained mainstream success included Apache Indian, whose 1993 single "Boom Shack-A-Lak" was used in many Hollywood movies, and Jas Mann, who headed Babylon Zoo and whose 1996 single "Spaceman" set a UK chart record when it sold 418,000 copies in its first week of release. The most successful South Asian musician in 2008 was the British Tamil artist M.I.A., who was nominated for two Grammy Awards for her single "Paper Planes", and has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Score for "O... Saya", from the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack.

    In 2009, R&B and hip-hop artist, Mumzy Stranger, became the first British Bangladeshi to release a music single; titled "One More Dance". In October 2009, Jay Sean's single "Down" reached the #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and sold four million copies in the United States, making him the first South Asian-origin solo artist and "the first UK Urban act to top Billboards Hot 100," "the most successful male UK urban artist in US chart history," and the most successful British male artist in the US charts since Elton John in 1997. A new generation of British Asian musicians have followed such as Raxstar, Bilal Shahid and Nish. In the early 2010s, Asian boy band members, Siva Kaneswaran of The Wanted and Zayn Malik of One Direction, have gained considerable mainstream popularity worldwide; The Wanted reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 with "Glad You Came" while One Direction topped the Billboard 200 with Up All Night. British Bangladeshi youtuber-turned-rapper Koomz is best known for his breakthrough single "Mariah" which has hit over 10 million streams and views across many platforms and also Number 1 in the Official Asian Music Chart of 2018.

    Charity and Interfaith

    There is a growing number of young British Asians who are making a mark in the charity and interfaith sectors. A recent example is Onkardeep Singh who became the youngest person of South Asian heritage in 2018 to be awarded an MBE for his interfaith and voluntary works. Saif Uddin Ahmad is a humanitarian and Chief Executive Officer of Al-Khair Foundation. He was formerly the chief executive officer of the UK charities Muslim Aid and Islamic Help, and he also founded the charities Faith Regen foundation, MADE in Europe and Global One 2015. Responsible investment consultant and writer, Niaz Alam was a trustee of the charity War on Want from 2000 to 2007.


    Jawaid Khaliq, the first world champion boxer of Pakistani origin, was born in Nottingham. Amir Khan, the silver medallist at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, has become a cultural icon in the UK with TV audiences of up to 8 million watching him fight. Khan represents Britain in boxing and is the former WBA world light welterweight champion. The boxer Haider Ali won the first ever gold medal for Pakistan in boxing at the commonwealth games in Manchester in 2002 in the featherweight division.

    Michael Chopra played for the England national under-21 football team and became the first footballer of Indian descent to play and score in the Premier League. In 2006 he scored one of the fastest goals in Premier League history, as Chopra had only been on the pitch for fifteen seconds after coming on as a substitute. Aston Villa defender, Neil Taylor is also of Indian descent. Currently in the Premier League, Hamza Choudhury, a footballer of Bangladeshi descent, plays for Leicester City, making him the first player of Bangladeshi descent to play in the Premier League, and has also made appearances for the England Under-21 Team.

    Just as in South Asia, the most popular sport among the British Asian community is cricket; as much as third of the players of the sport at recreational level are of South Asian descent. This has not translated into equal levels of success professionally however, with only 4.2% of cricketers being of British South Asian descent in first-class cricket across the UK. Regardless, many British South Asians have gone on to represent England in cricket internationally. Nasser Hussain, who was the captain of the England cricket team, was born in Madras, India. Other success stories of the past have included Mark Ramprakash, of Indo-Caribbean descent, Isa Guha, of Bengali descent, and Monty Panesar, of Indian Sikh descent. Currently, Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid are the only players in the England men's squad, both of Pakistani (Mipuri) descent. Ali, affectionately known by fans as 'the beard's that's feared', is currently ranked the 7th best all-rounder in ODI cricket and 8th-best in test cricket worldwide.

    Other British Asian sport personalities:

  • Akaash Bhatia
  • Haroon Khan
  • Vikram Solanki
  • Qasim Nisar
  • Imran Khan
  • Tanveer Ahmed
  • Sajid Mahmood
  • Saqlain Mushtaq
  • Adam Khan
  • Dimitri Mascarenhas
  • Ravi Bopara
  • Kabir Ali

  • Owais Shah
  • Kadeer Ali
  • Hamza Riazuddin
  • Min Patel
  • Samit Patel
  • Riaz Amin
  • Adil Rashid
  • Zesh Rehman
  • Bilal Shafayat
  • Harpal Singh
  • Anwar Uddin
  • Usman Afzaal
  • Adnan Ahmed

  • Hammad Miah
  • Nayan Doshi
  • Majid Haq
  • Ronnie Irani
  • Omer Hussain
  • Tajiv Masson
  • Kash Gill
  • Netan Sansara
  • Mandip Sehmi
  • Rikki Bains
  • Rajiv Ouseph
  • Ali Jacko
  • Bulbul Hussain
  • Ruqsana Begum
  • Zubair Hoque

    Celebrities in popular culture

    The comedians Sanjeev Bhaskar, Meera Syal, Papa CJ and Shazia Mirza are all well-recognised figures in British popular culture. The presenter and match maker of the BBC marriage arranging show Arrange Me a Marriage is a South Asian-Scot Aneela Rahman. Hardeep Singh Kohli is a presenter, reporter and comedian on British television and radio. British Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Indian contestants have appeared on The Apprentice including Syed Ahmed, Tre Azam, Lohit Kalburgi, Ghazal Asif, Shazia Wahab, Sara Dhada, and most notably Saira Khan, who is now a British TV presenter. The broadcasters Daljit Dhaliwal, Krishnan Guru-Murthy and Samira Ahmed are known for working on Channel 4 News.In 2008, in the second season of reality television Britain's Got Talent, one of the country's most successful reality television shows, the South Asian dance duo Signature, consisting of Suleman Mirza (a British Pakistani) and Madhu Singh (a British Indian) performing a fusion of Michael Jackson and Bhangra music and dance styles, came second on the show.

    Humza Arshad and Ali Shahalom are well known British Asian comedians for their YouTube careers which normally consists of stereotyping Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Muslim culture. In 2011, one of Humza Arshad's video was the seventh most viewed on YouTube in Europe. British Bangladeshi comedian Ali Shahalom, along with British Pakistani comedian Aatif Nawaz, starred on BBC's first ever British Muslim sketch show, Muzlamic.

    Cultural influence


    In 2001, the Centre for Social Markets estimated that British Asian businesses contributed more than £5 billion to GDP. Many British Asians are regarded as affluent middle-class people. As business owners and entrepreneurs, Asian Britons are celebrated for revolutionising the corner shop, expanding the take-away food trade, including the revitalisation of the UK's fish and chips industry by British Chinese, and energising the British economy to a degree which changed Britain's antiquated retail laws forever. In 2004, it was reported that Sikhs had the highest percentage of home ownership in the country, at 82%, out of all UK religious communities. Hindus ranked third highest at 74%, Buddhists were 54%, and Muslims households were listed at 52%.

    Many Asian British people have made important contributions to the country's economy by leading and innovating in major UK and international industries. Due to ther commercial success, there are a number of British citizen or UK-resident billionaires of Asian ancestry in the United Kingdom. From a Baniya family, Lakshmi Mittal is one of Britain's richest men. In 2017, Forbes ranked him as the 56th-richest person in the world with a net worth of US$20.4 billion. He is also the "57th-most powerful person" of the 72 individuals named in Forbes' "Most Powerful People" list for 2015. The Sunday Times Rich List has included Mittal in its listings since the mid-2000s.

    For several years, the publication has had an Asian Rich List section, featuring the wealthiest Asian Britons and UK-residents of Asian descent. In 2019, eight of the top ten, including Mittal, were of a South Asian ethnic background, including Indian-born Briton S. P. Hinduja, of Sindhi heritage, who topped the rankings via the Hinduja Group, with an estimated fortune of £22 billion. Exceptions included British nationals David and Simon Reuben, who were both born in India, and were listed in joint-second place. The Reuben brothers, of West Asian Baghdadi Jewish heritage, are worth over £18 billion. Part of the top ten since 2018, property magnate, and London-resident, Samuel Tak Lee is of East Asian descent and born in British Hong Kong. Other 2019 Asian Rich List UK billionaires included British-Iraqi Nadhmi Auchi and British-Iranian Farhad Moshiri.


    The biggest influence of South Asians on popular British culture has probably been the spread of Indian cuisine, though of the 9,000 Indian restaurants in the UK, most are run by Sylhetis; their ancestral home was part of British India until partition in 1947.

    An early record of a Sylheti migrant, by the name of Saeed Ullah, can be found in colonial officer Robert Lindsay's autobiography. Saeed Ullah was said to have migrated not only for work but also to attack Lindsay and avenge his Sylheti elders for the Muharram Rebellion of 1782. They eventually made peace with each other and Saeed was invited to Lindsay's home as a chef. Saeed Ullah's curry is often considered as the first Indian curry cooked in Britain.

    Shah Abdul Majid Qureshi is said to be the first Sylheti to open a restaurant in the country. It was called Dilkush Delight and located in Soho. Another one of his restaurants, known as India Centre, alongside early Sylheti migrant Ayub Ali Master's Shah Jalal cafe, became hub for the British Asian community and was sites where the India League would hold meetings attracting influential figures such as Subhas Chandra Bose, Krishna Menon and Mulk Raj Anand. Ali was an influential figure who supported working-class lascars, providing them food and shelter. In 1943, Qureshi and Ali founded the Indian Seamen's Welfare League which ensured social welfare for British Asians. Ayub Ali was also the president of the United Kingdom Muslim League having links with Liaquat Ali Khan and Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

    The Indian International Chef of the Year Competition founded in 1991 by celebrity chef and restaurateur Mohammad Ajman "Tommy" Miah MBE. The British Curry Awards was founded by restaurateur Enam Ali MBE in 2005.

    Performing arts

    As in Canada, Bhangra music has become popular among many in Britain not only from the works of British South Asian musicians such as Panjabi MC, Swami and Rishi Rich but also incorporated into the works of a number of non-South Asian musicians not only British but including North American artists such as Canadian Shania Twain, who created a whole alternate version of her multi-platinum album Up! with full Indian instrumentation, produced by South Asian producers Simon & Diamond. Diamond, better known as DJ Swami has also collaborated with rapper Pras, of The Fugees, and his band Swami have become one of the most renowned acts in South Asian music history, having had songs in major Hollywood movies and best-selling video games. One of the first artists of South Asian Indian origin to achieve mainstream success was Apache Indian who infused reggae and hip hop with Indian popular music to create a sound that transcended genre and found a multicultural audience. He is the only Indian artist to have achieved 7 top forty hits in the National UK charts. A subsequent wave of "Asian Underground" artists went on to blend elements of western underground dance music and the traditional music of their home countries, such as Nitin Sawhney, Talvin Singh, Asian Dub Foundation, Panjabi MC, Raghav, and the Rishi Rich Project (featuring Rishi Rich, Jay Sean and Juggy D).The influence of South Asian music has not only been from South Asians living in the UK, but also from some UK artists that were starting using South Asian instruments creating a new sound that was a mixture of sitars and tablas with more rock-based western instruments like drums and guitar.


    The films East is East, Chicken Tikka Masala and Bend It Like Beckham and the TV shows Goodness Gracious Me and The Kumars at No. 42 have managed to attract large, multi-ethnic audiences. The success and popularity of British Pakistani boxer Amir Khan influenced the revival of boxing on ITV Sport.

    The Asian web series Corner Shop Show was launched by actor and director Islah Abdur-Rahman aired from 2014 to 2019.

    In 2020, BBC Four released an episode of A Very British History focusing on the history of British Bangladeshis and emigration from Bangladesh from the 1960s onwards, hosted by Dr Aminul Hoque.

    Although there are roughly double the number of South Asians in the UK today compared to people of African descent, South Asians are less represented in global and British media than any other major group; in the UK there is less than half the amount of South Asians represented in the media than those of African and Caribbean descent.

    Awards and achievements

    With the increasing number of high achievers and trail blazers within the Asian community across a variety of professions, the British Asian community has over the years set up a variety of high-profile Award ceremonies to recognise Asian achievements across the full spectrum of professions and industries. These organisations and ceremonies include:

  • Asian Achievers Awards organised by Asian Voice since 2000 with women dominating the nominee list for the first time in 2017
  • Asian Women of Achievement Awards organised by Pinky Lilani CBE DL since 1999
  • Asian Legal Awards organised by the Society for Asian Lawyers since 1994 making it one of the oldest Asian awards ceremonies
  • Asian Curry Awards celebrating the best of Asian restaurants since 2010
  • The Asian Awards organised by the Lemon Group since 2010 and usually attended by a host of leading celebrities
  • The Asian Professional Awards organised by Jasvir Singh OBE and Param Singh since 2014 aimed at celebrating success within the City professions
  • The British Curry Awards founded by restaurateur Enam Ali MBE in 2005.
  • Indian International Chef of the Year Competition founded in 1991 by celebrity chef and restaurateur Mohammad Ajman "Tommy" Miah MBE.