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Ian McKellen Wishes People Weren’t So Nice About Margaret Thatcher


Image by Suzanne Plunkett / Reuters

Although Sir Ian McKellen was recommended for his knighthood by Baroness Margaret Thatcher at the end of her tenure as the United Kingdom’s prime minster, he took sharp aim Monday at coverage of Thatcher’s death in a blistering post focused on slights both of policy and personality.

Primarily, he wrote about the absence of discussion of Section 28, the prohibition on promoting homosexuality that was made law by Thatcher’s government and only repealed in 2003, in coverage. Of the provision, he wrote:

With regard to the divisive effect of her reign, one omission was significant and glaring: Section 28.

Lest we forget, this nasty, brutish and short measure of the third Thatcher administration, was designed to slander homosexuality, by prohibiting state schools from discussing positively gay people and our “pretended family relations”. Opposition to Section 28 galvanised a new generation of activists who joined with long-time campaigners for equality. Stonewall UK was founded, to repeal Section 28 and pluck older rotten anti-gay legislation from the constitutional tree. This has taken two decades to achieve.

Pathetically, in her dotage, Baroness Thatcher was led by her supporters into the House of Lords to vote against Section 28’s repeal: her final contribution to UK politics. She dies too early to oppose Parliament’s inevitable acceptance of same–gender marriage.

Section 28’s consideration and passage is also a very personal moment for McKellen, who came out publicly as a gay man as part of his opposition to the measure.


In a July 17, 1987 file photo, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of the United Kingdom, left, makes remarks after visiting United States President Ronald Reagan, right, at the White House in Washington, D.C.

Image by DPA, Howard L. Sachs, File / AP

Later, he also took aim at Thatcher’s personal demeanor:

Her womanliness was a weapon, we are told, in cabinet. At the end of a Downing Street reception, I was the last to leave, alone with Mr and Mrs Thatcher. In that low voice, trained to sooth, she said flirtatiously: “Mr McKellen, I like your suit. Where did you get it?” “It’s Japanese, Prime Minister.” She grimaced like a nanny: “Naughty, naughty!” and closed the double doors in my face.


Image by Matthew Lewis / Getty Images

Referencing the knighthood, even then, it is a mixed bag. Noting the call he received on the day of Thatcher’s “final exit” as prime minister, he wrote:

[T]he phone rang: “This is 10 Downing Street”. I thought it was a colleague having a joke but no: “The Prime Minister has been trying to reach you. She has it in mind (so the officialese goes) to recommend that the Queen give you a knighthood.” Flummoxed, I asked for time to think it over. Then, just as I put down the phone, the big black shiny door opened and the Thatchers emerged, she crying a little. It was if she had kept the world waiting until she knew for sure that I’d been contacted. Of course not. But nevertheless, I suppose the very last thing Thatcher did as prime minster was to organise my knighthood. Ding dong, maybe, but thanks all the same.


The coffin of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher arrives at the Houses of Parliament ahead of her funeral on April 16, 2013 in London, England.

Image by Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images

8. Bottom line: Gandalf means business.

Bottom line: Gandalf means business.

This film image released by Warner Bros., shows Ian McKellen as Gandalf in a scene from the fantasy adventure “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.”

Image by Warner Bros., James Fisher / AP
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