Former EastEnders actress Nina Wadia revealed she thought she was being pranked by friends when told she was being made an OBE in the New Year Honours.
Wadia, who found fame on acclaimed sketch show Goodness Gracious Me before landing a role on the BBC soap, has been recognised for services to entertainment and charity.
She was told the news on her 52nd birthday earlier this month but thought the official phone call was a friend winding her up.
She told the PA news agency: “Now it’s sort of sunk in, I genuinely am still finding it hard to believe.
“I’m very excited of course, I feel it’s a huge, huge honour that this has come my way.
“It’s made my last 30 years of my career, all the hard times, feel worthwhile.
“And certainly the thing that’s making me the happiest in the world is the fact that every charity that I represent will now have a bit of a boost, especially after the year that we’ve had where raising funds has been particularly difficult.
“So I’m hoping that this will add a bit of gravitas to the work that I do, and help raise more money for charity than before.”
Wadia has worked with charities including Barnardo’s, in tribute to her father who was an orphan in India and a kidney illness research charity in memory of her mother, who died with kidney failure.
And she supports the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund and Diabetes UK after her son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes three years ago.
Wadia also works with the organisation Education Saves Lives, which provides potentially life-saving information to communities around the world.
Wadia, who grew up in Mumbai, India, before moving to Hong Kong aged nine, credited her parents with inspiring her dedication to charity work and said her OBE was tinged with sadness at them not being able to see it.
She told PA: “My mum and dad, (who were) very big in the charity field themselves, always said to me if success comes your way, make sure you pay back because that is the way forward in life and I have taken that very seriously.
“And it breaks my heart that they are not around to see this happen for me. I hope they would have been proud. That’s the sad part of it.”
Wadia is married to the composer Raiomond Mirza.
She found fame on popular sketch show Goodness Gracious Me, which was originally a BBC Radio 4 series from 1996 to 1998, before making the jump to TV, running from 1998 to 2001.
It returned to the small screen for a one-off special in 2015 and in 2018 a 20th anniversary episode aired.
The show helped to make major stars of its leading lights including Wadia, Meera Syal and Sanjeev Bhaskar.
One of its most well-known sketches was the “going for an English” joke, in which they lampooned English people “going for an Indian”, being rude to the waiter and ordering the “blandest thing on the menu”.
Wadia’s role as Zainab Masood in EastEnders propelled her to further fame and allowed her to once again showcase her comedy skills.
She appeared in the BBC One soap for six years, leaving in 2013.
During her time on Albert Square, she was nominated for and won several TV awards including best comedic performance at the 2009 British Soap Awards.
Major storylines included her learning her son Syed Masood (Marc Elliott) was having an affair with Christian Clarke (John Partridge), while engaged to marry Amira Shah (Preeya Kalidas).
She described Zainab as like “Pauline Fowler but funny”, adding the character brought some levity to an often dark show.
Wadia said: “And next thing I know my six months turned into six and a half years because they kept writing her in and gave her more to do.
“I had a whale of a time and I met the incredible Barbara Windsor and some incredible actors, it was a little family on the show.
“And suddenly I was in a soap, which never in a million years did I think I would end up in.”
Wadia went on to star in BBC One sitcom Citizen Khan as well as Still Open All Hours and Death In Paradise.
She also appeared in Disney’s 2019 blockbuster Aladdin.
Wadia said her work is a team effort, adding: “So this will be a way of recognising everyone that I’ve ever worked with, to me that’s who this OBE is for – everyone who has ever been part of my life that has helped me to get here.”