A father-of-two who was honoured for his work supporting people through the Covid-19 pandemic said he could not believe it when he was invited to the Queen’s funeral.
The lawyer, 34, also gave “free pro-bono advice for people who had cancelled weddings, couldn’t get deposits back, people who lost their jobs because they got made redundant”, he said.
Mr Bhanot, a councillor on Chigwell Parish Council, said that last Saturday afternoon he received a phone call from a private number “while trying to put my little two-year-old to sleep”.
“I don’t normally answer private numbers but I did on this occasion,” he said.
“It was from the Cabinet Office and they invited me to the state funeral.
“I didn’t believe it, to be quite honest with you.
“I still don’t really believe it as the invite hasn’t actually come in yet.
“But very grateful.
“I feel completely out of place because all the headlines are saying there are going to be world leaders and presidents but it will give me a really nice opportunity to pay my respects to someone I hugely admired.”
He said he has received few details to date, other than to “wear a dark suit, which I went out to buy yesterday lunchtime”.
Mr Bhanot helped set up a support group to try to “get food and prescriptions to those that were self-isolating and couldn’t leave their properties” during Covid-19.
He said that when he learned he was to be made an MBE he “didn’t think I deserved it to be honest”.
“I was very taken aback, very grateful,” he said.
“It was the last thing I ever expected.
“It’s a huge honour.”
He said he heard of the Queen’s death in a message on his phone as he was on his way to a Tube station after leaving the office.
“I was truly devastated when I found out,” he said.
“I was just about to board the Tube and it was just really awful news really, I was really upset.
“It felt as if I had lost a family member to be quite honest with you.”
Mr Bhanot recalled meeting the Queen at an inter-faith event at Lambeth Palace 10 years ago, when he was a student at Manchester University and involved in student politics.
“She was a lot shorter than I thought but she had this incredible presence, very sweet,” he said.
“I must have been the 100th person she spoke to that day but she just seemed so interested in what I had to say.
“Very polite and she made me feel very much at ease even though I almost froze as I couldn’t quite believe I was in front of somebody I’ve seen on television my whole life and who’s been a complete constant in my life.”
The Queen’s state funeral will take place at Westminster Abbey on Monday.