Sir Ian McKellen visits Chew Valley

The arrival of Sir Ian McKellen at Chew Valley School caused an absolute sensation for star-struck students and teachers alike.  Sir Ian’s fame from a long and distinguished stage career may be less familiar to students, but his roles as Magneto in the ‘X Men’ film series and as Gandalf in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’ films made him an instantly recognizable hero for all.

The visit was a celebration of the tremendous work the Equalities Team have been doing for more than a year now in promoting human rights, opposing bullying and in particular challenging homophobic language and behaviour in school.  The Equalities Team have achieved national recognition for their campaigning work, addressing a Stonewall Conference in London and being made Stonewall Champions. 

Sir Ian McKellen was a founder member of Stonewall and has devoted much of his private time to supporting the organisation and promoting equal rights.  Greeted by Brian Matthews, Dani Ireland and Holly Dando from the Equalities Team, he was bowled over by Chew Valley School, the work it is doing and the atmosphere and pupils he encountered. 

In a series of mesmerising addresses and question and answer sessions he talked movingly about his own personal history in the context of changing attitudes and legislation in relation to gay rights.  Whilst celebrating the undoubted progress he has witnessed in his own life-time he urged Chew Valley students to continue to be a beacon for civilised attitudes and behaviour against the cruelties that can exist on these shores as well as intolerant societies abroad.

He took time to speak to students and to engage in friendly banter with an adoring crowd on the other side of a window, even repeating the famous line from ‘The Lord of the Rings’ epic : ‘You shall not pass!’ bringing cheers and delighted applause from his young fans (see video below).

‘It is a day that they and I will never forget,’ said headteacher, Mark Mallett.  ‘Sir Ian was a gracious guest at the school and an impassioned evangelist for tolerance and equality.  I can think of no better creed for our young people to take from their school careers into their lives as citizens as they go from here to contribute to the future of our society and country.’