Good Wife star Alan Cumming reveals his proudest moment: dislodging the Queen

The actor was his usual talkative self at the Cheltenham Literature Festival - until one audience question left him lost for words

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Alan Cumming has won both a Tony Award and an Olivier Award, has thrice been nominated for an Emmy for his role in US drama The Good Wife, and is the proud owner of an OBE – but says his greatest achievement is knocking the Queen off the walls of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

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Cumming’s portrait – painted by Christian Hook, the winner of the second series of Sky Arts Artist of the Year in 2014 – is part of the gallery’s permanent collection. Cumming, speaking at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, said of the painting, “It’s the thing I’m most proud of, of all my accolades – my portrait being in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, it’s incredible. And of course what was great was that they took a portrait of the Queen down, to put mine up!”

Hook depicted Cumming with the tartan of the Scottish independence campaign around his neck, and during his Cheltenham session the actor – who recently declared “If Donald Trump is the president of [America], we are f***ed!” – happily acknowledged his outspoken reputation.

“I’m a human being in the world, and I have opinions – I would be saying these things even if I wasn’t famous, just more people hear them now. If you’re a person whose opinion is sought, if people are interested in you for various things, I don’t see why that should stop when it comes to your political views, or your views on social issues. I get asked about some starlet’s new hairstyle, and yet you won’t ask me about something important. And that really p***es me off!”

On the subject of Trump, he blamed “the lack of value put on education in America” for his rise, saying, “There’s a kind of underbelly of people, a whole generation of society that aren’t educated so they don’t analyse things. They hear the same thing enough times and it becomes a fact, and that’s how fascists come to power, basically.”

But a member of the Cheltenham audience did manage to leave Cumming lost for words when he revealed himself as Alan McLean, a teacher who knew the actor when he was 15 years old. He asked Cumming about the abuse he suffered at the hands of his father, which he revealed in his 2014 memoir, Not My Father’s Son.

“What shocked me is the way you were able to cover up [the abuse] while at school. There were many opportunities where you could have shared some of this, but you chose not to do so,” said McLean.

Came the nonplussed reply from Mr McLean’s former pupil: “It’s so nice to see you! A blast from the past. Where do you live now? We’ll talk after!”

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He went on to explain why he was unable to talk about the ordeal until many years later: “The thing about abuse is that if the abuser is clever and has done it properly, they ensure that the abusee protects them, and doesn’t tell. And that’s what my father did… I really appreciate what you’re saying, but I could never have told you.”