A SPECIAL homecoming was staged for iconic star of stage and screen, Sir Ian McKellen, who celebrated his 80th birthday by going back to his first love — theatre.

On his tour to visit 80 theatres, which took to the road in January to mark the landmark year, he took time to reflect on his astonishing career. 


AS the half-hour chime sounded from the town hall clock, Sir Ian McKellen broke off from his sellout solo show at Bolton’s Albert Halls — just down the road from his birthplace in Burnley — to announce it was now officially his birthday.

“Did you hear the clock at 8pm and did you hear it again at 8.30 — that’s when I was born,” said the legendary actor and activist to cheers from the audience, some of whom started singing Happy Birthday.

Sir Ian announced last year that he would come back home to celebrate his special birthday. He appeared at Burnley Youth Theatre last week for an afternoon performance and then played Burnley Mechanics in the evening.

But for his actual birthday on Saturday, Sir Ian chose to perform in Bolton, a town which played a leading part in shaping the career of the man known to millions as Lord of the Rings star Gandalf.

And in tribute to the character, the show begins with a dramatic reading from The Lord of the Rings, followed by one of the younger member of the audiences – Will - being invited to join him on stage and wield the wizard’s sword.

There then follows a autobiographical stage show, with the star of the X-Men and the forthcoming film of Cats the Musical, taking the audience on journey through his life, talking about his family and explaining his on-going love affair with theatre, playing both narrator and actor, which at times was comical and emotional.

The old Hippodrome, Theatre Royal at The Grand all get a mention as well as Manchester’s Palace Theatre where he went as a three-year-old – with an alderman providing him with his first big break at working backstage at a town centre theatre.

“I just felt at home – I did not want to go home, “ said Sir Ian, who said he then wanted to know what it was like on stage. And Sir Ian was given opportunities to take centre stage at Bolton School, where his 80th birthday celebrations actually started on Friday.

But he confesses he did not think of acting as a professional until much later, jokingly saying "If Derek Jacobi can do it “ – with the actor being among the audience - rather he explored other options including becoming a journalist with what was then Bolton Evening News, but failed for whatever reason to impress then then editor Frank Singleton.

His passion for theatre in all its forms saw Sir Ian transform himself into Dame Twanky, throwing sweets into the audience.

Sir Ian speaks about what encouraged him to become an activist for gay rights, which in turn inspired the setting up of Bolton Pride.

During the interval, Sir Ian mingled with the audience catching up with friends, devoted the second half to Shakespeare providing anecdotes of each play and recreating passages from some of the Bard’s work.

He leaves the stage after powerfully recreating the once banned 400-year-old Shakespearean speech from Sir Thomas More.

The audience were undoubtedly thrilled to be playing a part in the actor’s 80th birthday celebrations.