Simon Callow reflects on Ian McKellen confiding in him about his coming out fears in the Eighties

Simon Callow has reflected on a conversation he had with Ian McKellen before the the Lord of the Rings star came out.

McKellen, 82, came out on BBC Radio 3 in 1988, during a programme about Section 28 – Margaret Thatcher’s reviled law that forbade “promoting” homosexuality.

Four Weddings and a Funeral star Callow, 72, had come out a few years earlier in 1984, in his book Being an Actor.

During an interview on the Out to Lunch with Jay Rayner podcast, food writer Rayner mentioned that McKellen had partly credited Callow with his decision to come out.

Explaining what happened, Callow said: “So Ian says to me one day in Los Angeles, ‘Look, do you think I should come out?’ And I said, ‘It’s very hard for me to answer that question because my coming out was a much easier thing because, in terms of career, I’m a character actor, and you’re of course a romantic leading actor.’

“And he said, ‘Of course, that has been my anxiety.’ But he said a young woman had just come up to him in Los Angeles and said, ‘I think you’re gorgeous,’ and he said ‘You do know I’m gay, don’t you?’ and she said, ‘That doesn’t stop you from being gorgeous.’”

Callow added: “I think that really lodged itself in his brain. I used to say I was John the Baptist to his Jesus as far as coming out was concerned. I was merely a forerunner.”

‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ cast (Rex)
‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ cast (Rex)

Elsewhere in the interview, Callow said he was relieved his Four Weddings and a Funeral character Gareth had not died of Aids.

“In 1992, we were still in the midst of Aids, so I was really, really so thrilled to see that I died of something other than Aids,” he said, adding jokingly: “I died of Scottish dancing. We’ve often said the film is basically government health warning against the perils of Scottish dancing.”