Patel was born in London to a Ugandan-Indian family. She was educated at Keele University and the University of Essex. Inspired to get involved in politics by Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, she was initially involved with the Referendum Party before switching allegiance to the Conservatives. She worked for the public-relations consultancy firm Weber Shandwick for several years, as part of which she lobbied for the tobacco and alcohol industries. Intending to switch to a political career, she unsuccessfully contested Nottingham North at the 2005 general election. After David Cameron became Conservative leader, he recommended Patel for the party's "A-List" of prospective candidates. She was first elected MP for Witham, a Conservative safe seat in Essex, at the 2010 general election, before being re-elected in 2015 and 2017. Under Cameron's government, Patel was appointed Minister of State for Employment and served as vice-chair of the Conservative Friends of Israel. She attracted attention for her socially conservative stances.