Rugby legend Gareth Thomas shown huge public support after revealing he is living with HIV

Welsh former rugby player Gareth Thomas looks on  prior to  a Pool A match of the 2015 Rugby World Cup between Wales and Fiji at the Millennium stadium in Cardiff, south Wales, on October 1, 2015.  AFP PHOTO / GABRIEL BOUYS  RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE, NO USE IN LIVE MATCH TRACKING SERVICES, TO BE USED AS NON-SEQUENTIAL STILLS        (Photo credit should read GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)
Welsh former rugby player Gareth Thomas looks on prior to a Pool A match of the 2015 Rugby World Cup between Wales and Fiji at the Millennium stadium in Cardiff ( Photo credit: GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)

Welsh rugby legend and former Celebrity Big Brother contestant Gareth Thomas has received a wave of public support after he revealed he is HIV Positive.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called him a “role model” and referee Nigel Owens said Thomas was “brave”.

Ian Green, chief executive at the Terrence Higgins Trust HIV charity, said Thomas’s diagnosis may help change public attitudes.

“I’m very proud to call Gareth Thomas a friend. Gareth is proof that an HIV diagnosis shouldn’t stop you from doing anything you want to do – whatever that is.

“I hope that by speaking publicly about this Gareth will transform attitudes towards HIV that are all too often stuck in the 1980s.”

Elsewhere, Match of the Day host Gary Lineker wished Thomas “good luck”, while Welsh actor Kai Owens called him “an inspiration”

45-year-old Thomas took to social media to make the revelation in an emotional video, telling his 257,000 followers he wants to “educate and break the stigma” around the virus.

In the clip, posted last night (14 September) Thomas said: “I want to share my secret with you. Why? Because it is mine to tell you.

“Not the evils that make my life hell by threatening to tell you before I do. And because I believe in you and I trust you.

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“I’m living with HIV. Now you have that information, that makes me extremely vulnerable but it does not make me weak.’

“Now even though I have been forced to tell you this I choose to fight to educate and break the stigma around this subject

“I’m asking you to help me to show that everyone lives in fear of peoples reactions and opinions but that doesn’t mean we should have to hide. To do this I really really need your support.”

To coincide with the video clip, Thomas also spoke to the Sunday Mirror, revealing he felt compelled to speak out after blackmailers threatened to expose the news before him.

He told the paper: “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.

“When someone else knows a secret as big as that they can determine your happiness or sadness every morning and use it as a weapon against you and your family.

“It put me in the darkest place ever. I felt I was losing control of my own life.”

The 6’3 star, who was the first openly gay professional rugby union player when he came out in 2009, also revealed the diagnosis left him feeling suicidal.

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“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, feeling suicidal. I thought about driving off a cliff.

“To me, wanting to die was just a natural thought and felt like the easier way out, but you have to confront things.

"And 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.”