Welsh rugby star Gareth Thomas has spoken to the Duke of Sussex about how his HIV diagnosis inspired him to live his life to the full and educate others about the virus.
Harry and the former Wales captain spoke about the virus as part of a powerful new film released by the Terrence Higgins Trust to mark national HIV Testing Week, which starts on Saturday.
In the video, filmed in the stands at the Twickenham Stoop – home of Premiership Rugby club Harlequins, Thomas told Harry that the moment he received his HIV diagnosis is what inspired him to educate others about the realities of the virus.
He said that everyone should know their HIV status to “normalise testing” and “make it easier for those that are fearful, that are scared to come forward”.
Thomas, who came out as gay in 2009, is thought to be the first UK sportsman to go public about living with the virus.
He told the duke that his knowledge of HIV was stuck in the 1980s and he thought he had been given a death sentence, but he now wants to show there is life after an HIV diagnosis.
Thomas added: “We do so much around our health – going to the dentist, going to the doctor. But when it comes to sexual health testing there’s the stigma and fear around it.
“We need to re-educate people to know that where we are now with HIV it is not a death sentence, it’s not and I am living proof.”
Ahead of his meeting with the duke, charities Terrence Higgins Trust and the National Aids Trust (NAT) announced Thomas as a commissioner on the first ever HIV Commission to end HIV transmissions by 2030.
Thomas said: “I have a new purpose now. I want to do whatever I can to remove the fear people have about testing for HIV and just do it.
“Because I wasn’t educated about HIV, I thought I had been given a death sentence when I was diagnosed and I don’t want anyone else to go through that.
“I take one pill a day which keeps me healthy, means I have absolutely no fear of passing on HIV to my husband and means I’m fit enough to do an Ironman.”
During their interview, the duke praised Thomas and said that what he was doing was “amazing”.
He added: “I believe in what you’re doing, it’s amazing.”
The duke and Thomas also discussed how the rugby community can help reduce the stigma by calling on rugby players to be tested and know their status to help normalise HIV testing.
The Terrence Higgins Trust, the UK’s leading HIV charity, paid tribute to the two men’s impact in “challenging perceptions of HIV and tackling stigma”.
The charity said that following Thomas revealing his HIV status publicly in September it saw a surge in orders for its HIV testing kits, mirroring a five-fold increase when Harry tested live on Facebook in 2016.
Testing for HIV has never been easier and can be done in a range of different places, including sexual health clinics, GP surgeries and at home, it added.
New statistics from Public Health England estimate that around one in 14 people living with HIV in the UK remain undiagnosed – while 43% of people diagnosed last year were diagnosed late, which is after damage to the immune system has already begun.
The charity said that was why testing for HIV was so important because someone diagnosed early and accessing treatment – like Thomas – has the same life expectancy as anyone else.
Access to effective HIV treatment also ensures that the virus cannot be passed on, it added.
Ian Green, chief executive of the Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “We’re proud to bring together the Duke of Sussex and Gareth Thomas – two individuals who have done so much to challenge people’s perceptions of HIV and tackle stigma.
“That’s because when they speak out about the realities of HIV, people listen and act.
“I hope the Duke and Gareth’s work to normalise HIV testing has a big impact during National HIV Testing Week and anyone who has previously been too scared to test sees that it’s always better to know.”