Although Bale was born in Wales, his parents were of English descent: an entrepreneur, commercial pilot, and talent manager, his father was David Charles Howard Bale, and his mother is former circus clown and performer Jenny James. He is the youngest of four children. Bale has three elder sisters – Erin Bale, a musician, Sharon Bale, a computer professional, and Louise Bale, a theatre actress and director. The Bale family is deeply rooted in show business, especially theatre. Bale is a distant relative of British actress Lillie Langtry, while his uncle, Rex Bale and maternal grandfather were actors as well. After leaving Wales in 1976, Bale spent his childhood in several countries, including England, Portugal and the United States. Settling for four years in Bournemouth and Henley-on-Thames, Bale was educated at Shiplake C of E Primary School, the independent Dolphin School in Berkshire, and at Bournemouth School. He participated actively in rugby union. Bale has described his childhood, with respect to his mother being in the circus, as “interesting”. He recalled his first kiss was with an acrobat named Barta.
As a child, he trained in ballet and guitar. His sister Louise’s work in theatre also influenced his decision to become an actor. Bale’s father was very supportive of his son’s acting, resigning from his job as a commercial pilot to travel and manage Bale’s burgeoning career. The elder Bale later married feminist icon Gloria Steinem, and died at the age of 62 on 30 December 2003, from brain lymphoma. Bale’s first foray into acting was a commercial for the fabric softener Lenor in 1982, when he was eight years old. He appeared in a Pac-Man cereal commercial playing a child rock star a year later and in 1984 made his stage debut in The Nerd, opposite Rowan Atkinson.