After coming out as HIV-positive this weekend via a video message on Twitter, rugby legend Gareth Thomas has received an outpouring of support from not only fans but the royal family.
In the video, Thomas shared that had been diagnosed with HIV some years ago but was coming out now after an unnamed tabloid threatened to ‘blackmail’ him about his status.
The 45-year-old athlete feared “people would treat me like a leper because of a lack of knowledge,” he told the Sunday Mirror. The rugby icon said by coming out as HIV-positive, he hopes to educate others and break the stigma associated with being positive.
He’s already received encouragement from both Princes Harry and William, who shared their support via social media.
On the Instagram account for SussexRoyal, Prince Harry shared Thomas’ HIV message and praised the athlete for his strength, resiliency, and courage.
“Gareth, you are an absolute legend!,” read the post which was signed ‘H’ for Harry. “In sharing your story of being HIV+, you are saving lives and shattering stigma, by showing you can be strong and resilient while living with HIV. We should all be appalled by the way you were forced to speak your truth, it is yours and yours alone to share on your terms and I and millions stand with you.”
Prince William responded on the KensingtonRoyal Instagram account with the message, “Courageous as ever – legend on the pitch and legend off it. You have our support Gareth.” The missive was signed ‘W’ for Prince William.
The former Celebrity Big Brother star has now announced that he will collaborate with Prince Harry to address the stigma associated with HIV.
“Like me, Prince Harry wants to break the stigma around HIV and he has already done a lot of great work,” Thomas told the Sunday Mirror. “We are planning to work together now.”
He added, “To do something with him will be really powerful.”
Prince Harry’s mother, Princess Diana, was a trailblazer during the early days of the HIV epidemic promoting awareness on the condition. She was credited with changing people’s attitudes about the disease when she was photographed shaking hands with a patient during a visit to the UK’s first AIDS clinic.
“Quite often I look at that photo of Diana at the clinic next to those frail-looking men and then I look at a photo of myself out on my bike and it motivates me because I can see how things have changed and advanced,” Thomas told the Mirror.
He added, “It also makes me realise how lucky I am because I see what it was like for them and I know 30 years ago that could have been me.”
Thomas also shared he’s received calls from other UK luminaries like Elton John.
The rugby star said he had to pull off the road when he got the call from the music legend.
“He said, ‘What you are doing is a brilliant thing,’” said Thomas. “It’s really brave of you. I’ll support you all the way.”
Others expressing their support include actress Samantha Womack and Andy Bell, lead singer of Erasure.
Demonstrating the strength of his health (Thomas shared in his message that his viral load is undetectable), the ITV sportscaster followed his coming out by participating in an Iron Man event in Tenby just hours after his announcement.
He finished the grueling athletic event in 12 hours, 18 minutes and 29 seconds, coming in 413th out of 2,039 participants.
(lead images via GarethThomasOfficial and SussexRoyal Instagram accounts)