Vicious: Ian McKellen – ‘We know we’ve got our lives behind us now’

"Do I think about death? Yes, every day. People of our age, when we get together, talk about decrepitude all the time"

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Having only ever owned two houses in my life – I’ve lived in my second home in east London for over 30 years – I hanker after stability. I’m not somebody who would like to drop everything and go, and not know what was going to happen.

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I live on my own, but I’m absolutely reliant on my sister, Jean. I have never really learnt how to do some fairly basic things like booking a flight. I’m very happy for somebody else to keep the diary. I don’t feel that because I live by myself my life’s a failure. It’s how it happens to be. And I do have a lot of single friends, straight and gay. We moan to each other sometimes, but most of the time if we didn’t like it, we’d have changed the situation. I’m not lonely for a minute. I’m out all the time, I have friends around all the time… no, not lonely for a minute.

Do I think about death? Yes, every day. People of our age, when we get together, talk about decrepitude all the time. We know we’ve got our lives behind us now. Friends keep dying, or get very ill. I’ve got a lot of young friends – that’s how I bolster myself against the inevitable. I’ve just arranged my house so that I’ll still be able to live in it when I can’t walk, so now there’s a lift in it. So yes, you are constantly wondering what’s going to happen to you as you see things happen to other people.

I don’t understand “bucolic bliss” as bliss at all. Going to the shop miles away, having to drive to post a letter? I like to be able to walk or get on a bike or on the Tube. I wouldn’t find living in a thatched village very stimulating. I love cities. All old people’s homes should be bang in the middle of the city and not out in some field somewhere. I can see why people like it, but to start withdrawing from what’s available… you become more reliant on television to tell you what’s happening, long-distance phone calls, or getting bored to tears with your partner or your neighbours. No, no, I love cities.

People say, “Oh, what a pity you don’t have children and grandchildren – wouldn’t that be lovely?” Well not necessarily because the children might not want to see me. Plenty of kids don’t want to see their parents and don’t bring the grandchildren around often enough.

I feel much happier now than when I was in my 20s. My life has been one of increasing self-confidence. One of the reasons I became an actor was because I wasn’t self-confident. That might sound odd, but I enjoyed rehearsing and preparing: it meant I knew what I was doing in a way that I didn’t in real life. That was compounded by the fact that being gay was illegal in this country until I was 28 years old. That doesn’t do much for your self-confidence.

Now I’m in a country where the laws don’t discriminate any longer. I feel accepted and about bloody time, frankly. That – plus the fact that I’m still working and still have my health – means I’m as happy now as I’ve ever been.


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Ian McKellen stars in Vicious which starts tonight at 9:00pm on ITV