Sir Ian McKellen: The Hobbit actor praises Burnley theatre during inspiring visit

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A blockbuster movie star has praised Burnley Youth Theatre's "amazing" work with young people during an inspiring visit to the town.

Sir Ian McKellen CBE, who was born in Burnley and plays Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings films, was the VIP guest during a private ceremony at the Queen's Park Road venue this afternoon.

Sir Ian McKellen CBE has praised Burnley Youth Theatre's "amazing" work with young people during an inspiring visit to the town.

Sir Ian McKellen CBE has praised Burnley Youth Theatre's "amazing" work with young people during an inspiring visit to the town.

The Hollywood actor was invited to officially re-open the facilities, which have been refurbished following flooding last summer. He then treated drama fans to an intimate performance of his latest show, which celebrates his 80th birthday.

Addressing the audience, Sir Ian said: "I was born in Burnley but I was only here for two months because just before the war my dad got a job in Wigan for slightly better pay so off we went.

"But I was just thinking, if that hadn't happened, and this organisation had been alive and kicking in the 1940s, I'd have been knocking at the door, wanting to come in. What a wonderful asset.

"It's not usual you know. Tom, our tour manager, Joy, who is in stage management, and I, have been going around 80 theatres and you'd be amazed how different they all are.

"They all have what you call 'outreach' and then when you ask, 'what does outreach actually mean', you find it's sometimes just good intentions.

"But here, it's clearly not. Just think what a difference potentially it makes to each individual and then what a difference it makes to their families and then therefore what a difference it makes to the whole of Burnley, and Lancashire, and the country I would say. I mean, it's an absolutely wonderful use of people's time and generosity."

Sir Ian, who is Burnley Youth Theatre's honorary benefactor, also said it was "amazing" that the organisation had reached more than 8,500 young people this year.

Eli Berry-Martland (18) and Holly Clough (16), were among the BYT members who met The Hobbit star earlier today.

Eli has just completed his studies at Burnley College and will undertake a degree in acting at The University for the Creative Arts in Farnham in September.

He said: "It's really nice to have Sir Ian here. It's an opportunity that you can't really get anywhere else. You don't really get a chance to meet someone who's so iconic in TV and film and the fact he's here where we do our sessions, is really incredible.

"He was really lovely and appreciated that he was here. He went round to everyone and asked how they were, what their name was, what they did. It was just surreal to meet him."

Holly, who plans to study drama at A-Level at college in Clitheroe, said: "It's just really amazing to have him here because he's someone who comes from the same town and community as us, who probably had a very similar upbringing, and has been so successful. It's inspiring to think we could do that too.

"When he came through the door I remember thinking, you know, he's actually here; it's Gandulf. When he came in and walked round and shook everyone's hand, it was just really polite of him; and he said he wanted to see the theatre and look round the space. He was really interested in what we do here and how the building works. He was really genuine."

The production, named Ian McKellen On Stage, is a fund-raising event for Burnley Youth Theatre.

Sir Ian will complete his visit to the town with a performance at the Mechanics tonight.