The lead singer of legendary British heavy metal band Judas Priest has spoken about being a role model to his gay fans.

Rob Halford came out in 1998 in an interview with MTV.

The band, nicknamed “Metal Gods,” have sold more than 35 million albums.

Halford left Judas Priest in 1993 after 20 years, but rejoined in 2003.

In an interview with Metal Edge magazine, the Walsall-born singer said that people from all walks of life are into metal music.

He said coming out was like “freeing yourself” and said that his action had helped other metal fans to do the same.

“It was no big surprise to me to find that there were other gay metalheads, it’s an absolute fact,” he said.

“I would get some of the coolest emails, especially from younger metalheads struggling with their sexual identity, saying “because you did what you did, I was able to tell my friends at school, or tell my family, or whatever, and they’ve accepted me.”

“And you don’t expect that, so it’s an absolutely wonderful thing to see and hear about.

“What I always tell people is, you’re not alone going through that struggle, that a lot of us have gone through that struggle, and the most fulfilling and freeing thing you can do to yourself is come out and be straightforward, and let everybody know who you are.”

Halford, 56, said it was “heartbreaking” to hear of young people being forced out of their homes for being gay but “that’s unfortunately still part of the world we live in.”

“People say really hateful things about me sometimes on message boards and blogs or whatever, but it has no effect on me, because I’m not hiding anymore, and it’s ridiculous to make that kind of statement. It has absolutely no value. So I would encourage people, if you can, to face the moment and say “This is who I am, take it or leave it.””