Sir Ian McKellen, star of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, paid a visit Belper School on Monday as part of a campaign against homophobia.
The 73-year-old actor chatted to pupils from year 11,12 and 13 as part of his work with Stonewall – the lesbian, gay and bi-sexual charity – to tackle homophobic bullying.
During the sessions, Sir Ian talked about what it was like growing up gay and explains how hecame out, aged 49, when Section 28 of the Local Government Act was introduced, which banned positive discussion of homosexuality in state schools.
That law was repealed seven years ago, permitting schools to tackle issues such as homophobic bullying.
Belper School headteacher, Trevor Harding, said: “He told the students about his experiences growing up from childhood as a gay person and how difficult that was.
“The students were very impressed with him and he spoke very powerfully to them in private.
“He was very personable and of course very skilled at what he does.
“Our students asked very impressive questions and there were far more students that wanted to speak to him than the time allowed.”
Following the talks, Sir Ian held a Shakespeare discussion workshop with A level Drama students.
The Lancashire-born actor started his career in 1965 and has portrayed many Shakespearean heroes, including Hamlet and Richard III.
He has previously acted in roles with Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal National Theatre, where he played several leading Shakespearean roles and won an Olivier Award for his role in Richard III.
Mr Harding continued: “The students asked him some questions and he reeled off a few speeches. One he did from a little known Shakespeare play called Sir Thomas More dealt with racial prejudice and he also gave plenty of acting tips.
“He signed dozens of autographs. We were just delighted that we had the opportuinity for him to come here.”
The visit was conducted in private. Mr McKellan has previously resisted requests from the media to attend the school sessions, so that “open discussion is not inhibited” following which there has been some criticisms of his motives in the national press.
He has been carrying out the visits since 2009 and has so far been to more than 60 schools across the UK.
As part of the latest visits, Stonewall contacted local authorities across the county telling them about the visits that were up for grabs and Belper School applied.
He went on to meet students at Frederick Gent School, South Normanton later in the day.
The actor portrays Gandalf the Grey in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and will be reprising the role in the up- coming Hobbit films.
The first of those, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which has been adapted from J R R Tolkien’s best-selling series, is to be released from December 13 across the UK.
He is also known for film roles such as Magneto in the X-Men films, and as Sir Leigh Teabing in The Da Vinci Code.
He has also twice been Oscar-nominated for his role in Lord of the Rings and Gods and Monsters.