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Last Updated: Saturday, 29 December 2007, 00:48 GMT
Further honour for actor McKellen
Sir Ian McKellen
Sir Ian McKellen was knighted in 1990.
Following his 1990 knighthood for services to the performing arts, 68-year-old Sir Ian McKellen has become a Companion of Honour.

Born in Burnley, Lancashire, just before the outbreak of World War II, the young Ian McKellen spent his formative years sleeping under the iron, bomb-proof table in the family dining room, in case of German raids.

The household was a strongly Christian one, with a father who was a civil engineer and a lay preacher, and with two preachers for grandfathers.

Sir Ian came out as gay to his stepmother, after his mother died when he was 12 and his father when he was 24.

"Not only was she not fazed," he said, "but as a member of a society which declared its indifference to people's sexuality years back, I think she was just glad for my sake that I wasn't lying any more."

The Order of the Companions of Honour consists of the Queen and 65 ordinary members
It is conferred for "services of national importance"
Members include Sir John Major, Dame Judi Dench, Sir David Attenborough and Professor Stephen Hawking
In acting circles, Sir Ian had never kept such matters quiet but the general public only learned about his sexuality when he announced it at the age of 48.

The experience had a big impact on his life and Sir Ian declared it to be one of his most important achievements.

"Coming out, coming out, coming out. That's the only thing I've ever done, really," he said.

"That's what it can say on the gravestone. That will be the obituary."

Homosexuality was implicit in the Edinburgh festival production which made him famous in 1969, Marlowe's Edward II . He performed in a touring production and then again for the BBC.

I got every old man part going sent to me. I was offered God a couple of times and they don't get much older than that
Sir Ian McKellen
Roles for the Royal Shakespeare Company followed, including in Romeo and Juliet opposite Francesca Annis and Macbeth, with Judi Dench - who he joins in the Order of the Companions of Honour.

Sir Ian surprised many in 2004 when he decided to play a pantomime dame in the Old Vic's production of Aladdin.

As Widow Twankey, Sir Ian donned curlers, a headscarf and slapped on make-up.
Sir Ian McKellen
McKellen played Widow Twankey in the Old Vic's production of Aladdin
Never one to be type-cast, he found to his dismay that his role as Gandalf in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy of films lead to casting directors thinking of him purely in those terms.

"I got every old man part going sent to me," he said, "I was offered God a couple of times and they don't get much older than that."

He has since starred in Hollywood blockbuster The Da Vinci Code and reprised his role as villain Magneto, in the third X-Men film The Last Stand.

McKellen also fulfilled a "long-held ambition" when he starred in 10 episodes of Coronation Street as dubious author Mel Hutchwright in 2005.

With his wide range of roles, on stage and screen and in his non-acting life, Sir Ian has bucked several trends.

Mainstream Hollywood success is still unusual for openly gay actors but Sir Ian has continued to be very active in the field of gay rights.

He co-founded the lobby group Stonewall in 1989 and is patron of GAY-GLOS, a support group for gay people and their friends and families, and Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans History Month.

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