Sir Ian McKellen is an all-round fabulous human being, and undoubtedly one of Britain’s most treasured actors, immortalised by his legendary depictions of characters such as Gandalf and Magneto in the Lord of the Rings and X Men film franchises. Oh, and Dracula in that Pet Shop Boys vid too.
McKellen is also the first openly gay President of the Oxford Union, which he delighted in reminding his academic audience within minutes of this fascinating and illuminating speech, taped last month at the exalted debating chamber.
Like his acting, Ian’s conversational and debating skills are characterised by leadership, wit, wisdom, and bags of charming humour. A co-founder of Stonewall gay rights pressure group, this brilliant raconteur and master of walking pauses wasted no time in labelling Kevin Spacey’s coming-out in response to misconduct allegations “reprehensible.” He expressed hope that predatory behaviour could be eradicated.
“I assume nothing but good will come out of these revelations, even though some people of course get wrongly accused — there’s that side of it as well,” he said.
He also detailed (at around 26 minutes in) a fascinating meeting with Nelson Mandela, then newly installed as the first black President of post-apartheid South Africa, to persuade him to back an equal opportunities agenda and enshrine it into law:
“I’d been warned that he might start giggling when we talked about homosexuality, because he found the whole subject a bit funny. He’s of that generation. I said ‘So, do you think when we leave the meeting we can tell the media that you support this new law of no discrimination against gay people in the constitution?’
“’Of course. Well, of course. You don’t pick up arms, you don’t stay in prison for 27 years in support of white people and black people should be treated the same, and then say of gay people that they should be treated differently.’ So that was my little contribution to history, because South Africa is the first country in the world to have it in its constitution that you may not discriminate on grounds of sexuality.”
What a legend. Both of them.