Prince William hails courage of Welsh rugby star Gareth Thomas after he reveals he has HIV
15 September 2019, 08:29 | Updated: 15 September 2019, 20:01
Welsh rugby star Gareth Thomas has told of his battle with HIV, saying blackmailers put him ‘through hell’ by threatening to expose his secret.
Thomas, who came out as gay in 2009, revealed that he was driven to suicidal thoughts as a result of his diagnosis, and said he cried on the doctor’s shoulder after he was told the news.
He said he went public with his illness to reduce the stigma of being diagnosed with HIV. He also said that blackmailers had tried to use his diagnosis as a “weapon” against him.
He timed the announcement as he took part in a gruelling 140-mile Ironman triathlon.
He completed the course in the seaside resort of Tenby, south Wales, with a time of 12 hours 18 minutes and 29 seconds and came 413th out of 2,039 participants.
He began the 140-mile Ironman triathlon in Wales today, competing among hundreds of other athletes, gathering on the start line for the Ironman Wales race in Tenby.
Courageous as ever – legend on the pitch and legend off it. You have our support Gareth. W https://t.co/WXGof2N3j8— Kensington Palace (@KensingtonRoyal) September 15, 2019
He completed a 2.4 mile swim in Carmarthen Bay in just under an hour and a half before racing 112miles by bicycle across south Pembrokeshire.
The final leg saw him take on a 26.2 mile marathon through Tenby, in south west Wales.
The 45-year-old told the Sunday Mirror: "I've been living with this secret for years.
"I've felt shame and keeping such a big secret has taken its toll."
"I had a fear people would judge me and treat me like a leper because of a lack of knowledge. I was in a dark place.
"To me, wanting to die was just a natural thought and felt like the easier way out, but you have to confront things."
“Having a strong support system and the personal strength and experience of overcoming those emotions got me through it.
"Many people live in fear and shame of having HIV, but I refuse to be one of them now. We need to break the stigma once and for all.The former British and Irish Lions captain, who will be a TV pundit in the upcoming Rugby World Cup in Japan, said he "broke down" when he got the news of his diagnosis.
Thomas said: "I went for a routine sexual health test at a private clinic in Cardiff.
"I didn't feel ill and thought everything was going to be fine.
"When (the doctor) said those words... I immediately thought I was going to die.
"I felt like an express train was hitting me at 300mph. Then I was thinking 'how long have I got left?'"
"I've been threatened by people who said they would give away my secret. It's sick and I've been through hell.
"I was being blackmailed and in my mind I thought you only get blackmailed for something really bad, which compounded the feeling of shame."
The former Cardiff Blues player won 103 caps and scored 41 tries for Wales between 1995 and 2007, and he is 13th on the all-time international test try-scoring list.
Last November, he was attacked in Cardiff city centre in a homophobic hate crime, but asked South Wales Police to deal with the 16-year-old assailant by way of restorative justice.
Gareth Thomas has again shown enormous strength in declaring himself HIV positive.— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) September 14, 2019
A role model challenging stigma and prejudice.
His example offers hope and resolve to others. Solidarity, @gareththomas14. https://t.co/kpJPbWgBoB
The sportsman now takes one tablet containing four medications each day, and doctors have said his condition is under control to the point that it is considered "undetectable" and cannot be passed on.
Thomas said that his husband Stephen, who he met after his diagnosis and married three years ago, does not have HIV.
The former fullback added that telling his parents, Yvonne 70, and Barry,69, "empowered" him and that his parents and loved ones are supportive.
Thomas said he hopes that his openness will help end the stigma around condition.
The Terrence Higgins Trust said Mr Thomas's story will "transform attitudes towards HIV that are stuck in the 1980s".
The HIV charity said: "Gareth is proof that an HIV diagnosis shouldn't stop you from doing anything you want to do.
"Gareth blazed a trail by being the first rugby player to come out as gay and has done so much to encourage inclusion and diversity within the sport.
"Now he is doing that once again with HIV, showing that this virus doesn't need to be a barrier when you're diagnosed and accessing treatment."
For confidential support call the Samaritans on 116123, or visit a local Samaritans branch.