Saturday, 23 May 2015

Derek Jacobi & Ian McKellen: The 50 Year Phase

What they’re both rather delighted about is that we now live in an age where you can debate the portrayal of gay couples on mainstream telly. They talk about their own experiences of being gay in an age where such a thing was illegal. It’s sobering stuff.

Jacobi says he came out to his mother when he was at university. ‘She said, “All young men, go through this phase, don’t worry.” I remember saying, “Don’t tell Dad.”’ He doesn’t know to this day if she did. ‘I think she did, but I don’t know. But they were wonderful, my parents, not much was said but they kind of knew, they got it.’

McKellen hasn’t heard his friend talk of this before. ‘That’s the first time I’ve heard that,’ he says, genuinely moved. ‘I never came out to my family. Biggest regret of my life.’ It turns out he didn’t even come out to Derek at university, even though it’s always been reported that he had something of a crush on him.

‘Yes, I did fancy Derek, but I didn’t act on it, God, no. It was illegal, remember. I do get on my high horse about it, because it was so difficult. There were no gay clubs you could go to. No gay bars, no gay newspaper, nothing. What there was was a bit sleazy, I suspect. One of the reasons I became an actor was that you could meet gay people. Even then everything was difficult. When you went to America they asked, “Are you now, or have you ever been, homosexual?” I lied on the form. It was a different world.’

His anger propelled him into the gay rights movement, and he’s still a very vocal campaigner. Jacobi, on the other hand, took the opposite route. When he finally gets the chance to talk – McKellen is definitely the chattier of the two – his story is no less compelling. ‘No, I wasn’t open. I just lived my life and people responded to me.

'If they knew, or thought, I was gay, that was fine. If they didn’t, that was fine. I’ve never been on a Gay Pride march. It doesn’t mean I don’t feel as strongly about it, I just don’t talk about it.’ In fact, he’s been with his partner Richard Clifford for nearly 40 years (they got together just after his first major TV role in the BBC’s I, Claudius), and they entered into a civil partnership in 2006.

What’s their secret? ‘Oh God! I don’t know. It is a long time, isn’t it? There’s a certain amount of work, but there’s luck too.’ McKellen fills in the gaps. ‘They adore each other, and are a very good match.’ ...


From an enchanting profile of Derek and Ian in the Daily Mail, which they put in the Femail section natch.

Quite bafflingly, Vicious returns for a second series on Monday June 1st.

Ian and Derek during their Cambridge days.

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