Heartfelt tributes have been paid to an inspirational woman who was a ‘beacon of hope and light’.

Helen Choudhury passed away on Mother’s Day, surrounded by her loved ones, aged 70.

Helen was matriarch of the well-known Choudhury family, who run the Taj Mahal restaurant on East Street, and well-respected by people in Bridport.

She was known for her work ethic - putting her life and soul into the business – her love for her family and her big heart. She would often cook for homeless people and those struggling in the community.

Helen’s family – husband Rafique, sons Cliff and Sanjay, daughter Sarah, their partners Sadeq and Amanda and grandchildren Hannah, Halima, Ibraham, Mohammed and Oscar – say a huge hole has been left in their lives, but it has been a comfort to see the ‘huge outpouring of love’.

Sarah said: “We have had flowers left outside the door every day since mum passed. We’ve had so many cards and well-wishes, it’s heartwarming to see she was so loved. If mum could see how much love and support there’s been she would be shocked. She was such a humble woman.”

Helen was born in Guyana, South America, and moved to England when she was 17 to train as a nurse.

She bravely moved here alone but quickly settled in and made friends while working at Christchurch Hospital – where she would soon meet Rafique.

They fell in love and married on May 13, 1973, at Bournemouth Registry Office before enjoying a honeymoon in Scotland.

Together, they opened a takeaway, with Helen giving up nursing to follow her real dream and love of cooking.

Bridport and Lyme Regis News: Helen gave up nursing to follow her real passion of cooking

She gave birth to the couple’s first child, Cliff, in 1974 and it wasn’t long before their success outgrew the takeaway and the couple launched their first restaurant, the New Delhi, in Bournemouth.

Sarah was born in 1977 and, while juggling two children, the Choudhury’s opened the Taj Mahal in the mid-80s – running the two restaurants at the same time.

It wasn’t until the couple welcomed their third child, Sanjay, in 1992 that they moved to Bridport full time and the restaurant eventually became a family affair.

“We all worked there together and it’s been a family-led business”, said Sarah. “It was mum’s real baby and she would juggle everything and make it work. It never closed other than Christmas Day.”

Helen’s flair and talent in the kitchen gained her international attention. She once cooked a rabbit curry as part of a show for celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and soon had visitors to the restaurant from across the globe looking to try the dish.

She rustled up a hot naga curry for Terry Wogan, attended food festivals across the country and represented Indian chefs in a BBC interview which was broadcast on its global network.

But for Helen, home was where the heart is and she did an incredible amount for the community. So much so, her family cooked and distributed Indian meals for the community fridge in her honour days after her passing.

“Mum helped so many people,” said Sarah. “She was humble, loving and caring. If you went to her with a problem she would help and you would know it wouldn’t go any further – she would never gossip. She was just a beacon of hope and light.

Bridport and Lyme Regis News: Sarah and mum Helen

“She’s my inspiration. If I can do even a quarter of what she’s done I will be extremely happy.”

Helen passed away from a rare form of pancreatic cancer. Sarah has praised her fighting spirit until the end.  The family is planning a memorial event which will take place on Sunday, April 21, at 2pm at Bridport Arts Centre. All are welcome to attend. 

“We are just overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support from Bridport,” Sarah added. “We did not expect it at all and we are just so moved by it.”