Ian McKellen
ParentsDenis Murray McKellen and Margery Lois
Domestic partnerBrian Taylor (1964–1972)
Sean Mathias (1978–1988)

Sir Ian Murray McKellen, Order of the Companions of Honour (CH), Order of the British Empire (CBE) (born 25 May 1939) is an English actor.[1][2] The recipient of multiple Laurence Olivier Awards, a Tony Award, a Golden Globe Award, two Academy Award nominations, and five Emmy Award nominations, McKellen's work spans genres ranging from Shakespearean and modern theatre to popular fantasy and science fiction. His most notable film roles include Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy and The Hobbit film trilogy, Magneto in the X-Men films, and Sir Leigh Teabing in The Da Vinci Code.

McKellen was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1979,[3] was knighted in 1991 for services to the performing arts,[4] and was made a Companion of Honour for services to drama and to equality, in the 2008 New Year Honours.[5]

Early life

McKellen was born in Burnley, Lancashire, although he spent most of his early life in Wigan. Born shortly before the outbreak of World War II, the experience had some lasting impact on him. In response to an interview question when an interviewer remarked that he seemed quite calm in the aftermath of the 11 September attacks, he said: "Well, darling, you forget—I slept under a steel plate until I was four years old."[6]

McKellen's father, Denis Murray McKellen, a civil engineer, was a lay preacher, and both of his grandfathers were preachers. His great-great-grandfather, James McKellen, was a "strict, evangelical Protestant minister" in Ballymena, County Antrim.[7] At the time of Ian's birth, his parents already had a five-year-old daughter, Jean. His home environment was strongly Christian, but non-orthodox. "My upbringing was of low nonconformist Christians who felt that you led the Christian life in part by behaving in a Christian manner to everybody you met."[6] When he was 12, his mother, Margery Lois (née Sutcliffe), died; his father died when he was 24. Of his coming out of the closet to his stepmother, Gladys McKellen, who was a member of the Religious Society of Friends, he said, "Not only was she not fazed, but as a member of a society which declared its indifference to people's sexuality years back, I think she was just glad for my sake that I wasn't lying anymore."[6]

McKellen attended Bolton School (boys division),[8] of which he is still a supporter, attending regularly to talk to pupils. McKellen's acting career started at Bolton Little Theatre, of which he is now the patron.[9] An early fascination with the theatre was encouraged by his parents, who took him on a family outing to Peter Pan at the Opera House in Manchester when he was three.[Citation needed] When he was nine, his main Christmas present was a wood and bakelite, fold-away Victorian theatre from Pollocks Toy Theatres, with cardboard scenery and wires to push on the cut-outs of Cinderella and of Laurence Olivier's Hamlet. [Citation needed]

His sister took him to his first Shakespeare play, Twelfth Night,[10] by the amateurs of Wigan's Little Theatre, shortly followed by their Macbeth and Wigan High School for Girls' production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, with music by Mendelssohn, with the role of Bottom played by Jean McKellen, who continued to act, direct, and produce amateur theatre up to her death.[11] He won a scholarship to St Catharine's College, Cambridge, when he was 18 years old.[12] He has characterised it as "a passion that was undeclared and unrequited".[6]

Personal life

McKellen and his first serious partner, Brian Taylor, a history teacher from Bolton, began their relationship in 1964.[13] It lasted for eight years, ending in 1972. They lived in London, where McKellen continued to pursue his career as an actor. For over a decade, he has lived in a five-story Victorian conversion in Narrow Street, Limehouse.[14] In 1978 he met his second partner, Sean Mathias, at the Edinburgh Festival. This relationship lasted until 1988. According to Mathias, the ten-year love affair was tempestuous, with conflicts over McKellen's success in acting versus Mathias' somewhat less-successful career. Mathias later directed McKellen in Waiting For Godot at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in 2009. The pair entered into business partnership with Evgeny Lebedev, purchasing the lease on The Grapes public house in Narrow Street,[15] close to McKellen's home.[16]

A friend of actor Ian Charleson and an admirer of his work, McKellen contributed an entire chapter to the 1990 book, For Ian Charleson: A Tribute.[17]

In the late 1980s, McKellen lost his appetite for meat except for fish, and so mostly excludes it from his diet.[18] He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2006.[19]


LGBT rights campaigning

While McKellen had made his sexual orientation known to his fellow actors early on in his stage career, it was not until 1988 that he came out to the general public, in a programme on BBC Radio 3.[20] The context that prompted McKellen's decision — overriding any concerns about a possible negative effect on his career — was that the controversial Section 28 of the Local Government Bill, simply known as Section 28, was under consideration in the British Parliament.[12] McKellen has stated that he was influenced in his decision by the advice and support of his friends, among them noted gay author Armistead Maupin.[12] In a 1998 interview that discusses the 29th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, McKellen commented, "I have many regrets about not having come out earlier, but one of them might be that I didn’t engage myself in the politicking."[21]

In 2003, during an appearance on Have I Got News For You, McKellen claimed when he visited Michael Howard, then Environment Secretary (responsible for local government), in 1988 to lobby against Section 28, Howard refused to change his position but did ask him to leave an autograph for his children. McKellen agreed, but wrote, "Fuck off, I'm gay."[22] McKellen described Howard's junior ministers, Conservatives David Wilshire and Dame Jill Knight, who were the architects of Section 28, as the 'ugly sisters' of a political pantomime.[23]

Section 28, which proposed to prohibit local authorities from "promoting homosexuality" 'as a kind of pretended family relationship', was ambiguous and the actual impact of the amendment was uncertain.[24] McKellen became active in fighting the proposed law, and declared himself gay on a BBC Radio programme where he debated the subject of Section 28 with the conservative journalist Peregrine Worsthorne.[12] He has said of this period: "My own participating in that campaign was a focus for people [to] take comfort that if Ian McKellen was on board for this, perhaps it would be all right for other people to be as well, gay and straight".[6] Section 28 was, however, enacted and remained on the statute books until 2003.

McKellen has continued to be very active in LGBT rights efforts. In a statement on his website regarding his activism, the actor commented that:

I have been reluctant to lobby on other issues I most care about – nuclear weapons (against), religion (atheist), capital punishment (anti), AIDS (fund-raiser) because I never want to be forever spouting, diluting the impact of addressing my most urgent concern; legal and social equality for gay people worldwide.[25]

McKellen is a co-founder of Stonewall, a LGBT rights lobby group in the United Kingdom, named after the Stonewall riots.[26] McKellen is also patron of LGBT History Month,[27] Pride London, GAY-GLOS, The Lesbian & Gay Foundation,[28] and FFLAG where he appears in their video "Parents Talking".[29]

In 1994, at the closing ceremony of the Gay Games, he briefly took the stage to address the crowd, saying, "I'm Sir Ian McKellen, but you can call me Serena" (this nickname, originally given to him by Stephen Fry, had been circulating within the gay community since McKellen's knighthood was conferred).[6] In 2002, he attended the Academy Awards with his then-boyfriend, New Zealander Nick Cuthell. In 2006, McKellen spoke at the pre-launch of the 2007 LGBT History Month in the UK, lending his support to the organisation and its founder, Sue Sanders.[27] In 2007, he became a patron of The Albert Kennedy Trust, an organisation that provides support to young, homeless and troubled LGBT people.[26]

In 2006, he became a patron of Oxford Pride, stating:

"I have been to many Pride occasions across the World, from being Grand Marshall in San Francisco to the first ever gay march in Johannesburg in post-apartheid South Africa. Wherever gay people gather publicly to celebrate their sense of community, there are two important results. First, onlookers can be impressed by our confidence and determination to be ourselves and, second, gay people, of whatever age, can be comforted by the occasion to take first steps towards coming out and leaving the closet forever behind. I send my love to all members of Oxford Pride, their sponsors and supporters, of which I am proud to be one." [Citation needed]

McKellen has taken his activism internationally, where it caused a major stir in Singapore. Invited to do an interview on a morning show, he shocked the interviewer by asking if they could recommend him a gay bar. The program immediately ended.[30] In December 2008, he was named in Out's annual Out 100 list.[31]

In 2010, McKellen extended his support for Liverpool's Homotopia festival in which a group of gay and lesbian Merseyside teenagers helped to produce an anti-homophobia campaign pack for schools and youth centres across the city.[32] In May 2011, he called Sergey Sobyanin, Moscow's mayor, a "coward" for refusing to allow gay parades in the city.[33]



  1. Jackson, George. "Nesbitt does the honours as fellow actor McKellen gets Ulster degree", Independent News & Media, 4 February 2013. Retrieved on 4 February 2013. "McKellen is recognised as one of the greatest living actors." 
  2. "Sir Ian McKellen receives award from University of Ulster", BBC News, BBC, 3 February 2013. Retrieved on 3 February 2013. "[O]ne of the greatest actors on stage and screen [...] Sir Ian's performances have guaranteed him a place in the canon of English stage and film actors" 
  3. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named CBE
  4. Sir Ian McKellen. Retrieved on 18 July 2011.
  5. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named CH
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 Steele, Bruce C.. "The Knight's Crusade", The Advocate, 11 December 2001, pp. 36–38, 40–45. Retrieved on 16 February 2009. Archived from the original on 22 March 2007. 
  7. Ian McKellen traces roots to Ballymena. UTV. Retrieved on 3 February 2013.
  8. Famous Old Boltonians. Bolton School. Retrieved on 14 June 2009.
  9. Bolton Little Theatre. Bolton Little Theatre. Retrieved on 14 June 2009.
  10. Curtis, Nick. "Panto's grandest Dame", Evening Standard, 9 December 2005. Retrieved on 7 February 2010. 
  11. J. W. Braun, The Lord of the Films (ECW Press, 2009)
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 of Ian McKellen Inside the Actors Studio. Bravo. 8 December 2002. #5, season 9
  13. "Ian McKellen profile at Tiscali", Tiscali Film and TV. Retrieved on 11 April 2005. 
  14. "Sir Ian McKellen", The Times, 27 August 2005. Retrieved on 10 September 2005. 
  15. "The Grapes History",
  16. "Sir Ian McKellen is Landlord Of The Rings",
  17. Ian McKellen, Alan Bates, Hugh Hudson, et al. For Ian Charleson: A Tribute. London: Constable and Company, 1990. pp. 125–130.
  18. Correspondence with Ian McKellen—Vegetarianism from Online Autobiography. Retrieved 4 February 2008.
  19. Ian McKellen is battling prostate cancer
  20. The programme is online: "Third Ear: Section 28", BBC Radio 3, 27 January 1988
  21. Mendelsohn, Scott, "Ian McKellen", BOMB Magazine. Fall 1998. Retrieved on [18 July 2012.]
  22. 10 things we didn't know this time last week. BBC News. 14 November 2003.
  23. 'Section 28'. Retrieved on 1 July 1998.
  24. "When gay became a four-letter word", BBC, 20 January 2000. Retrieved on 5 January 2010. 
  25. Activism. Retrieved on 13 July 2008.
  26. 26.0 26.1 Ian McKellen becomes the Albert Kennedy Trust's new patron. The Albert Kennedy Trust (5 January 2007).
  27. 27.0 27.1 LGBT History Month 2007 PreLaunch. LGBT History Month (20 November 2006).
  28. Aim High. the Lesbian & Gay Foundation. Retrieved on 15 June 2009.
  29. FFLAG Official web site
  30. "Ian McKellen's gay comment causes a stir on Singaporean TV."
  31. "Ian McKellen." Out. December 2008. Retrieved 28 April 2009.
  32. Staff Writer. Ian McKellen backs Liverpool anti-homophobia effort. Pink News. Retrieved on 20 June 2012.
  33. By Editors. McKellen Calls Moscow Mayor a Coward | News. The Advocate. Retrieved on 18 July 2011.


Barratt, Mike (2006), Ian McKellen: An Unofficial Biography, Virgin Books, ISBN 0-7535-1074-X 

External links

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