Actor Sir Ian McKellen regrets waiting until his late 40s to "come out" as a gay man because he received nothing but love and support from his peers after his shocking admission.

The Lord of the Rings star didn't go public with the truth about his sexuality until he was 49, but the British icon insists he would have done things differently if he knew the reception from fans would be so warm.

He tells Vanity Fair magazine, "There have been no negatives whatsoever... The minute I came out, I felt immediately better in every way. I felt relieved that I wasn't lying.

"You know, when I was growing up in 1950s England, there were no gay clubs I knew about. There were no bars. Homosexuals were shamed publicly and imprisoned. You were on your own, looking over your shoulder all the time, hoping in the handshake of a stranger that he might be somebody gay."

And the 73 year old confesses one of the main reasons he got into acting was because the theatre community was so accepting of homosexuals.

He continues, "I'd heard you could meet queers. So it proved. I was never closeted with friends and colleagues in the professional theatre, but I wasn't out to my closest blood relatives."