Benedict Cumberbatch

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5 mins read

Benedict Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch CBE was born 19 July 1976 and is an English actor. A graduate of the Victoria University of Manchester, he continued his training at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, obtaining a Master of Arts in Classical Acting. He first performed at the Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park in Shakespearean productions and made his West End debut in Richard Eyre’s revival of Hedda Gabler in 2005. Since then, he has starred in the Royal National Theatre productions After the Dance (2010) and Frankenstein (2011). In 2015, he played the title role in Hamlet at the Barbican Theatre.

In 2015 he was appointed a CBE in the 2015 Birthday Honours for services to the performing arts and to charity. He received the honor from the Queen at an investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace on 10 November 2015. In February 2016, Cumberbatch was appointed visiting fellow at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford University. 

He was born to actors Timothy Carlton (born Timothy Carlton Congdon Cumberbatch) and Wanda Ventham. He grew up in the borough of Kensington and Chelsea. He has a half-sister, Tracy Peacock, from his mother’s first marriage. His grandfather, Henry Carlton Cumberbatch, was a submarine officer of both World Wars, and a prominent figure of London high society. His great-grandfather, Henry Arnold Cumberbatch, was a diplomat who served as consul in Turkey and Lebanon, and his great-great-grandfather, Robert William Cumberbatch, also was a British consul in Turkey and the Russian Empire. Cumberbatch is third cousin 16 times removed of King Richard III, whom he portrayed in The Hollow Crown. He attended Richard III’s 2015 reburial and read a poem.

Cumberbatch attended boarding schools from the age of eight; he was educated at Brambletye School in West Sussex and was an arts scholar at Harrow School. He was a member of The Rattigan Society, Harrow’s principal club for the dramatic arts, which was named after Old Harrovian and playwright Terence Rattigan. Cumberbatch’s drama teacher, Martin Tyrell, called him “the best schoolboy actor” he had ever worked with.

After leaving Harrow, Cumberbatch took a gap year to volunteer as an English teacher at a Tibetan monastery in Darjeeling, India. He then attended the Victoria University of Manchester (now the University of Manchester), where he studied Drama. In January 2018, it was announced that Cumberbatch would succeed Timothy West as President of LAMDA.

Cumberbatch’s television work includes appearances in Silent Witness (2002) and Fortysomething (2003) before playing Stephen Hawking in the television film Hawking in 2004. He has starred as Sherlock Holmes in the series Sherlock since 2010. He has also headlined Tom Stoppard’s adaptation of Parade’s End (2012), The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses (2016) and Patrick Melrose (2018). In film, Cumberbatch has starred in Amazing Grace (2006) as William Pitt the Younger, Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) as Khan, 12 Years a Slave (2013) as William Prince Ford, The Fifth Estate (2013) as Julian Assange, and The Imitation Game (2014) as Alan Turing. He also made a brief appearance in 1917 (2019). From 2012 to 2014, through voice and motion capture, he played the characters of Smaug and the Necromancer in The Hobbit film series. In superhero films set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he has played Dr. Stephen Strange in Doctor Strange (2016), Thor: Ragnarok (2017), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), and Avengers: Endgame (2019).

He subscribes to Buddhist philosophy and has expressed affinity for meditation and mindfulness. Cumberbatch also follows a vegan diet.

Cumberbatch is an ambassador for The Prince’s Trust. He is a supporter and patron of organizations focused on using the arts to help disadvantaged young people including Odd Arts, Anno’s Africa and Dramatic Need. Since portraying Stephen Hawking in 2004, he has been an ambassador, and in 2015 patron, for the Motor Neurone Disease Association and in 2014 did the Ice Bucket Challenge for the organisation. He also set up a recovery fund for the benefit of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Association. Cumberbatch has donated artworks for charities and fundraisers including the Willow Foundation, and Thomas Coram Foundation for Children. 

Together with Prince Philip, Cumberbatch presented 85 young people with the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award at St James’s Palace on 19 March 2014.

In May 2014, he joined Prince William and Ralph Lauren at Windsor Castle for a cancer awareness and fundraising gala for the benefit of The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust. In September 2014, he participated in a video campaign for Stand Up To Cancer. Cumberbatch posed for photographer Jason Bell for an exhibition at Pall Mall, London from 16–20 September 2014 to mark 10 years of the “Give Up Clothes For Good” charity campaign, which has raised £17 million for Cancer Research UK. In 2014, Cumberbatch publicly backed “Hacked Off” and its campaign for UK press self-regulation by “safeguarding the press from political interference while also giving vital protection to the vulnerable.”

Cumberbatch is a founding member of the “Save Soho” campaign which aims “to protect and nurture iconic music and performing arts venues in Soho.” In an open letter published in The Guardian on 31 January 2015, Cumberbatch, amongst others, asked for pardons of all gay and bisexual men who were convicted under the same now-defunct “indecency” laws as Alan Turing was (whom Cumberbatch portrayed in The Imitation Game). 

In September 2015, Cumberbatch condemned the UK government’s response to the migrant crisis in a speech to theatregoers during a curtain call at a performance of Hamlet, for which he stars. He also fronted a video campaign to help the charity Save The Children in its mission to aid young Syrian refugees. He was one of the signatories of an open letter, published in The Guardian, criticising the government for its actions regarding the refugee problem. He also gave nightly speeches after his curtain call as Hamlet at the Barbican in London, asking for donations to help Syrian refugees. At the end of the run, the audience contributed more than £150,000 for Save the Children. 

In 2003, Cumberbatch joined the Stop the War Coalition protest in London against the Iraq War. He addressed activists in a 2010 protest sponsored by the Trade Union Congress in Westminster on the suggested risks to the arts due to spending cuts expected in the Spending Review. In 2013, he protested against what he perceived were civil liberties violations by the UK Government. 

Cumberbatch is a supporter of LGBT+ rights and in July 2013 officiated at the same-sex marriage of friends. For International Women’s Day 2014, he was a signatory of Amnesty International’s letter to the Prime Minister David Cameron for women’s rights in Afghanistan. Cumberbatch identifies as a feminist.

In 2016, Cumberbatch was one of over 280 figures from the arts world who backed a vote for the United Kingdom to stay in the European Union in regards to the June 2016 referendum on that issue.