Welsh rugby legend Gareth Thomas has revealed how he was blackmailed over his secret HIV status as he kept his diagnosis from family and friends.
The former Lions player, 45, last night said he has been living with the virus ‘for years’, becoming the first British sports star to come out as HIV-positive.
Thomas, who came out as gay in 2009, initially didn’t tell his family and friends about his condition, fearing he would be ‘treated like a leper’.
But after being ‘threatened’ by blackmailers and left on the brink of suicide, he decided to tell his two older brothers – and eventually his parents.
He told the
‘I was being blackmailed and in my mind I thought you only get blackmailed for something really bad, which compounded the feeling of shame.
Gareth Thomas is pictured in 2012 ahead of his appearance on Dancing On Ice
Welsh rugby legend Gareth Thomas (pictured during a 2010 match between Wales and Ireland) has revealed how he was blackmailed over his secret HIV status
Gareth (left) posted this picture of himself on his 45th birthday in July with the caption: ‘Today I’m 45 and the happiest I have ever been in my life. I surround myself with people I love and would die for’
‘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 sport star, who is affectionately known as ‘Alfie’ said he wanted to ‘protect’ his family by not telling them.
The former rugby player posted also posted this picture of himself giving a big ‘thumbs up’ on his 45th birthday in July, with the caption: ‘I try to do the right thing but more importantly I know I will sometimes fail, cry, and be sad, and strangely it’s knowing that, that makes me happy.’
Adding that he didn’t want to put them through the pain, he was soon forced to be honest when those who knew tried to use it against him.
Telling his older brothers Steven and Richard first, he later plucked up the courage to tell his mother Yvonne and father Barry.
He told the newspaper they initially struggled to understand his condition, fearing the worst after the 1980s crisis saw gay men being warned: ‘Don’t die of ignorance’.
But after explaining that with one pill a day, the virus can be kept under control and impossible to pass on, his parents were fully supportive.
He added: ‘They said, ‘You’re our son and if you tell us you’re not ill and your life’s not in danger, that’s good enough for us and we will support you’.
HIV (human immuno-deficency virus) attacks the body’s immune system. Those diagnosed with the virus once had a bleak prospect.
But with modern medicine, it can be fully controlled by drugs which stop it developing into AIDS.
People living with HIV in the Western world can render the condition undetectable in their system with one pill a day.
The ex-rugby player says he considered committing suicide after learning of his diagnosis
Thomas says he has been living with the condition ‘for years’, but has not made clear exactly when he was diagnosed or whether it was still while he was playing professionally.
He was diagnosed during a routine sexual health check and was faced with the trauma of telling former partners so they too could be tested.
Yesterday Thomas also revealed he is married, after coming out as gay towards the end of his rugby career and splitting with ex-wife Jemma in 2009.
His husband Stephen does not have HIV, he said, and they live together in Bridgend, Wales, with Stephen’s daughter Anna.
They met while working with troubled schoolchildren and have been together for four-and-a-half years.
Thomas said he was honest about his HIV status from the start and Stephen has been accepting and supportive.
There has been a huge outpouring of support since he revealed he is living with the virus yesterday.
Gareth married his childhood sweetheart Jemma in 2002 but came out as gay in 2009