Ian McKellen says his ‘greatest regret’ is not coming out to his parents

British actor Sir Ian McKellen arrives at Westminster Abbey for a memorial service for theatre great Sir Peter Hall OBE on September 11, 2018 in London, England.

Sir Ian McKellen has said that his “greatest regret” is not coming out to his parents.

The Lord of the Rings star was speaking to former Doctor Who actor David Tennant for his podcastDavid Tennant Does a Podcast With.

McKellen, who co-founded gay rights group Stonewall in 1989, spoke about the rapid pace of change on the issue in the past 30 years.

Sir Ian McKellen: School children can’t believe that gay sex was illegal

The actor said: “I go to schools quite a bit to talk about being gay, and talk about what it was like to be gay before they were born. Their jaws drop open.

“They cannot believe what they’re hearing, that you could go to prison if someone found out you’d been making love to another man.

Ian McKellen walks a red carpet for 'Ian McKellen: Playing The Part' during the 12th Rome Film Fest at Auditorium Parco Della Musica on November 1, 2017 in Rome, Italy.

Ian McKellen walks a red carpet for ‘Ian McKellen: Playing The Part’ during the 12th Rome Film Fest at Auditorium Parco Della Musica on November 1, 2017 in Rome, Italy. (Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty)

“That’s all in the past now, for me, but a lot of people still have a bad time… even in this country, where a lot of homeless young people are gay and have been thrown out by their families, it’s horrible.

McKellen noted that laws banning gay sex “still apply in a lot of countries today, and it makes people’s lives an unnecessary misery.”

Sir Ian McKellen: Not telling my parents I’m gay is my greatest regret

McKellen added that he deeply regrets never coming out to his parents.

He said: “It’s the greatest regret of my life that I didn’t tell them. My mother died when I was 12, and my father when I was 24, so I didn’t talk to either of them about it.”

Asked if he was aware of his sexuality at the age of 12, McKellen replied: “Yes. I remember a boy I was in love with at school.

“I went through a heterosexual phase when I was about 11, but that was the last time.”

Of his school visit with Stonewall, the actor quipped: “They let me into schools as Gandalf, but by the time I’ve finished talking, they might think, ‘How did we let that old gay man in?’

“Well, he’s talking about something that concerns children, growing up gay or having friends who are gay or having parents who are gay.”

Sir Ian McKellen: I feel sorry for actors in the closet

McKellen also spoke about actors who choose to remain in the closet to retain their personas as Hollywood leading men.

He said: “I feel sorry for them. I know they’d be happier if they came out.

“They say, ‘I want to be the next Tom Cruise,’ but there’s only one person who’s going to be the next Tom Cruise, and it might be you, but there’s an awful lot of other people who it might be as well.

“What’s so important about acting that you’d live a lie? How can being successful as an actor be compensation for that?”

McKellen continued: “Worrying every day that someone’s going to out you, and then… you’re not going to be the next Tom Cruise!

“There’s only three or four successful romantic leads at any one time in Hollywood, and why would you be one of them?”

He added: “Come out, and your career will carry on as it would have. It’s perfectly possible now to be openly gay and not be stuck playing only a gay part.”