When Clarissa Dickson Wright embarked on a tour of the country, she was hoping to savour the culinary delights of every region.
But her visit to one particular city, it would seem, left a bitter taste.
The television chef has caused outrage by saying that her visit to a Muslim area of Leicester was “the most frightening experience of my life”, and claiming that it left her feeling like a “pariah” in her own country.
Dickson Wright, 65, who reached fame as one half of the Two Fat Ladies, said visiting the city made her feel like a “complete outcast” and she described the area as a “ghetto”.
When asked to explain the comments, made in her new book, she said she was “surprised any of the people who might object could read what I wrote as it is written in English”.
She added that she has “never believed that political correctness was a reason not to say what I have experienced”.
The chef was criticised for her “hurtful” comments, with the city’s mayor accusing her of “breezing in from outside” and making “cheap” generalisations to sell books.
Dickson Wright has dedicated one chapter of Clarissa’s England: A Gamely Gallop Through the English Counties to every county, discussing the culinary, cultural and historical merits of each.
On Leicestershire, she writes of the “ghetto” of its city, saying that it demonstrates how multiculturalism has failed.
Describing how she got lost after coming off the ring road to escape a traffic jam, she writes: “I found myself in an area where all the men were wearing Islamic clothing and all the women were wearing burkas and walking slightly behind them.
“None of the men would talk to me when I tried to find out where I was and how to get out of there because I was an English female and they don’t talk to females they don’t know, while if the women could speak English they weren’t about to show it by having a word with me. I have many good acquaintances and even some friends among the Muslim community, yet here I was, in the heart of a city in the middle of my own country, a complete outcast and pariah. If multiculturalism works, which I have always been rather dubious of, surely it must be multicultural and not monocultural.
“However, everything has an upside and one of the results of this is that Leicester has a very good selection of Asian restaurants. I can only hope that in generations to come there will be a merging of the cultures and not the exclusion zone that is the ghetto.”
Ibrahim Mogra, the assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, and a city imam, said: “How can she judge an entire community on her one-off rare time of getting lost in Leicester?
“It showed a complete lack of appreciation of the fact we are almost two million in this country, doing our bit for our country. When she says that she was in the centre of a city in the centre of her own country, I take objection. This is also my country and this is also my city.
“I would like to call on Leicester people to be even more welcoming and hospitable than we’ve been so far.”
Sir Peter Soulsby, the mayor and former Labour MP, said: “That is the sort of thing that makes me very angry — when someone breezes in from outside and paints a picture of Leicester that does not have any foundation in reality. It may help sell books, but it is cheap.”
When contacted by the Leicester Mercury, Dickson Wright, who was born in London and lives in Edinburgh, said: “I’m surprised any of the people who might object could read what I wrote as it is written in English.
“Visiting Leicester scared me and I am not scared easily. It frightened me because it was part of my country that I was born in and there are a lot of radical Muslim preachers in this country.
“I was in London when the July 7 bomb attacks happened and this to me was proof for those people who have been saying we’re getting ghettoisation of Muslim areas.”