Getting black people to vote has “never been more needed” in a “divided” Britain and with a general election thought to be likely, campaigner Sir Simon Woolley said as he was knighted for his services to racial equality.

The knighthood for the founder and director of campaign group Operation Black Vote (OBV) comes after he has spent more than 25 years working to build social and racial justice.

He said: “I think that young people, black and white coming together, will be the antidote to the toxic climate that we are now confronting.

“The division and tribalism is not what people asked for.”

Sir Simon said he explained to the Queen that part of his work is to get young people to register to vote and be interested in politics and civil society.

He said the Queen replied: “That must be quite a challenge right now.”

Receiving his knighthood from the Queen at Buckingham Palace is the start of “an extraordinary 10 days” because at the end if it he will be appointed to the House of Lords.

The Leicester-raised activist who was brought up on a council estate will sit as crossbencher Lord Woolley of Woodford.

Sir Simon, 57, said “it is going to be a crazy 10 days” to think he would have risen from a “commoner” to a “Lord of the realm” in that time.

He has been credited with helping transform the ethnic and racial make-up, not only of parliament, but also local authorities, the magistracy and public bodies.

Investitures at Buckingham Palace
Sir Simon Woolley from London is made a Knight Bachelor of the British Empire (Yui Mok/PA)

There were just four black or ethnic minority MPs when he started and now there are over 50, along with over 100 magistrates in the court system.

He said: “All of that is honour enough but this (honour) is the icing on the cake.”

Describing his line of work as often “thankless and you accept that,” he added: “Anything like this (knighthood) is just not in the ballpark, so to get it is truly humbling, a little bit overwhelming and gives my son Luca bragging rights at school.”

The 14 year-old has already warned his father he will never call him “Sir” and he will always be just “dad”.

The teenager has also told Sir Simon he is ready to tell his classmates that he has met the Queen “and not many kids in his school will have done that”.

Sir Simon’s years of gritty grassroots campaigns have also included helping to highlight issues such as racial discrimination, race attacks, police accountability and working alongside pioneering and sometimes controversial figures such as the late Bernie Grant MP, US civil rights leader Rev Al Sharpton and the former US presidential candidate Rev Jesse Jackson.

Rev Sharpton previously said Sir Simon is “well-deserving to be knighted for his contributions to the global political and economic empowerment of marginalised people”.

He added: “I have worked with him over the last two decades, and have witnessed his impeccable integrity and unbreakable belief in establishing justice through peaceful and effective means.”