Sir Ian McKellen

“I thought I was a bit  of a freak... it was only when I went to University and met others of my kind that I relaxed.”

When did you first realise that you were gay?

I fell in love with a girl I met on holiday when I was eight years old. Soon after, I was exclusively attracted to boys. This was 60 years ago in the North of England.

Where I lived, no-one ever spoke about ‘queers’ - as we were then called. It was illegal to make love to someone of your own gender and so there were no places where gay people could openly meet each other.  It’s different now, we have almost achieved complete equality, but it wasn’t like that then.

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I began my adult life thinking I was a bit of a freak and it was only when I went to University and met others of my kind that I relaxed and got on with falling in love and being myself.

However, I almost didn’t go. I was terrible at exams and only just squeezed over the pass marks. I did well in just one subject, my favourite, English Literature and that was because I enjoyed Shakespeare and poetry. I only got into Cambridge because the examining tutor got me to do a speech from Shakespeare’s play Henry V, which I had done at school. It was pure luck.

After University I went straight into acting at the theatre. I am not aware of my sexuality ever being a disadvantage at work but I do remember that I wasn’t confident that I could successfully play a straight romantic role, although I’ve done it countless times since then.

Heterosexuality is a very interesting phenomenon for actors to explore!


About Sir Ian:

As one of the most famous gay people on the planet, Sir Ian McKellen needs no introduction.

He has been acting for almost half a century, in a career that has seen him move effortlessly from theatre performer to global superstar. He has played iconic lead roles in cult classics, The X-Men and The Lord of The Rings, as well as gaining widespread acclaim from industry critics.

He has won several awards, including a Tony, two Oliviers, an Emmy and a Golden Globe, as well as being nominated for BAFTAs and Academy Awards.

Sir Ian has single-handedly overturned the assumption that gay actors can only play gay roles.

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Sir Ian appears in our inspirational Aim High booklet, along with 19 other people at the top of their respective fields, showing sexuality should not get in the way of success.

Why he's your homo hero?

Sir Ian has made it on to the list because while he might be famous, people recognise that he has had his struggles too… Sir Ian McKellen kindly agreed to be interviewed for the LGF's Aim High Guide - an inspirational resource for young LGBTs - which highlights that sexuality is not a barrier to success. Sir Ian McKellen told Aim High about the prejudice gay people faced when he was growing up in the North of England 60 years ago...

"Where I lived, no-one ever spoke about ‘queers’ - as we were then called. It was illegal to make love to someone of your own gender and so there were no places where gay people could openly meet each other.

It’s different now, we have almost achieved complete equality, but it wasn’t like that then. I began my adult life thinking I was a bit of a freak and it was only when I went to University and met others of my kind that I relaxed and got on with falling in love and being myself.

After University I went straight into acting at the theatre. I am not aware of my sexuality ever being a disadvantage at work but I do remember that I wasn’t confident that I could successfully play a straight romantic role, although I’ve done it countless times since then."

“For being such a wonderful actor and for his convictions in not being afraid to profess his sexuality.” Paul Higginson

“He came out when gay people were treated worse than they are today. He has never hesitated to stand up for the gay community.” Anne Harding

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