Sir Ian McKellen regrets not coming out as gay to his dad: ‘There would have been no judgement’

Amol Rajan interviews Ian McKellen

Sir Ian McKellen has said he regrets never coming out as gay to his dad before his death, insisting he would not have had any “moral judgement”.

McKellen sat down with journalist Amol Rajan for a BBC interview on Thursday (3 March) and discussed his “very happy” childhood in wartime Wigan, but said: “There was one thing missing, which was that I don’t never enough conversations about things that really mattered.”

The 83-year-old actor, who lost his mother at the age of 12, added: “I never talked to him about being gay.” Asked by Rajan whether he “wishes he had”, he responded: “Oh yes, of course.”

McKellen recalled: “He’d been to see me at my first show in the West End, I’m always glad of that, and three weeks later in a car crash, he died.

“The idea that he couldn’t have coped with the fact that his son was gay is inconceivable to me, even though I’m not aware that we had any gay friends or that he’d ever thought about it or that it had any impact on his life.

“Therefore it might have come as some sort of surprise to him, but there would have been no moral judgement.”

His father would have loved him for who he was “as [his] sister did”, Ian McKellen said, adding: “When I came out to my sister, she said, ‘Oh I wish you’d told me years ago because I always wanted to talk to you about it.'”

Ian McKellen visits schools to describe the ‘distant land’ where being gay was illegal

Ian McKellen spends a lot of time in schools, explaining to teens what it was like to grow up when being gay was illegal.

“They give me the time of day because they’re aware that Gandalf’s in town,” he said, laughing.

“I tell them, ‘I’m not going to talk about that, to begin with, I’m going to talk about being gay’… When I tell them that when I was their age it was illegal for gay men to make love to each other, they simply cannot believe it.

“I’m talking about a foreign, distant land.”

On growing up in that time, and in a generation that was deeply homophobic, McKellen said that “anger is one of the emotions” that he feels.

He continued: “I mean, the stupidity of it all! I don’t remember anything in the number of times I sat through sermons, went to Sunday school, anyone ever mentioning that homosexuality was against God’s law.

“It just wasn’t on the agenda, because nobody ever thought about it… There was an innate homophobia, a fear and suspicion of gay people, out of sheer ignorance. And to bolster up their immediate reaction of confusion and disapproval they would go to the holy books and find justification.

“I don’t think it was that the church was banging on about how wicked gays were, but it was a rather wicked attitude for people to go looking in the book for justification.

“People have found in the holy books justification for apartheid, and other discriminations, against women in particular.

“So, anger? Deep regret, and joy that now in this country the acceptance of gay people is based on people recognising that they have gay friends and gay relatives and gay entertainers that they enjoy.”