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Ian McKellen never got the chance to come out to his parents: ‘But I remember them with nothing but pleasure’

Matilda Davies May 7, 2021
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Ian McKellen

Sir Ian McKellen also admitted he is regularly mistaken for Michael Gambon, who played Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series. (Dave Benett/Getty)

Ian McKellen has opened up about never getting the opportunity to come out to his parents in a new interview.

The 81-year old actor came out as gay in 1988 on BBC Radio in his late 40s, after he lost both of his parents, and says he has “never stopped talking about it since, made up for lost time”.

Appearing on The Jonathan Ross Show, McKellen said he was “as close as you can be [with your parents] when your mother dies at 12 and dad dies when you’re 22”.

He added: “Never told them I was gay for example. Didn’t see me do any of my best work. But I remember them with nothing but pleasure.”

McKellen attributed his decision to come out later in life was partly due to anti-gay laws in the UK during his youth.

“That was my dilemma when I was a kid,” he told Ross. “If I’d said I was openly gay I could have risked being prosecuted. That’s not true any more. We have very good laws in this country.”

While homosexuality was decriminalised in the UK in 1967, Section 28 outlawed the “promotion of homosexuality” by schools and local authorities from 1988 until 2003.

Ian McKellen and his long-time friend Michael Cashman were among the co-founders of LGBT+ charity Stonewall, which was created to campaign against Section 28.

He told Ross: “Great fun of course, taking on the government and winning. I knew I was right. Not many times in life I know I’m right.”

When he is asked for advice about coming out now, he said he tells people: “Oh come on, join the modern world. It’s not the same, you won’t get put in prison.”

The Lord of the Rings star also explained how coming out improved his acting work: “It changes your life utterly.

“I discovered myself, and everything was better: my relationships with my family, with friends, with strangers. And my work got better as I wasn’t hiding any more.

“Up to that point, my acting had really been about disguise and then, when I could feel I was myself, it became about telling the truth, which was much more interesting.”

He is due to star in a new production of Hamlet in June, 50 years after he first played the role in a new “age, colour and gender-blind production”.

McKellen has, as of late, used his platform to advocate for the trans community, telling It’s A Sin star Olly Alexander in an interview: “The problems that transgender people have with the law are not dissimilar from what used to be the case for us, so I think we should all be allies really.”

 

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