Sir Ian McKellen says coming out as gay is the best thing he ever did.

The 73-year-old actor famously revealed he was gay aged 49 during a BBC radio interview, after years of notoriety as a well-respected stage actor, and his only regret is waiting so long to be open about his sexuality.

He explained: ''In the 50s and 60s, the life of a gay man was a secret. Homosexuality was illegal, so you didn't draw attention to yourself. But coming out is the best thing I ever did and I've never met a gay person who didn't think he same.

''Even now there are young actors who want careers as romantic leading men and the best thing is not to reveal you're gay. I suppose I used to wonder if I'd be allowed to play Romeo if I came out.''

'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey ' star - who reprises his role as wizard Gandalf in Sir Peter Jackson's film - decided to tell the truth, despite fearing his career would suffer, because he felt it wasn't worth lying to himself for the sake of a job.

McKellen said: ''When I came out, I told my stepmother Gladys, and she just said she had known for years and was glad I wasn't lying anymore. Before that, I presumed it would be bad for my career.

''Eventually, I thought if you compromise to the extent of lying about yourself, is there any job in the world that's worth that? I don't think there is. It's still a sensitive issue in Hollywood though.''