The Duke of Sussex teamed up with friend and former Wales rugby legend, Gareth Thomas, to highlight the importance of being tested for the HIV virus today. The meeting between Prince Harry and the sportsman took place ahead of National HIV Testing Week, which this year runs from the 16th to 22nd November.
This engagement and charity is especially poignant for Harry as it was a cause that his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales was a champion of, working hard to remove the stigma around HIV at a time when very little was known about the disease and there was no cure on the horizon. Harry is continuing to honour his mother’s memory by showing his support for issues that were so close to heart.
Harry and Gareth, who recently announced his HIV diagnosis, met players from the King’s Cross Steelers, who style themselves as the world’s first gay rugby club. The pair also met players from the Harlequins Premiership Rugby club, to raise awareness about the issue.
The Duke of Sussex wore a poppy, as well as a red ribbon, the colour for HIV
When former Wales rugby star Gareth Thomas opened up about having HIV, he made an unlikely ally.
The Duke of Sussex is now working with Gareth to fight against the stigma of HIV. https://t.co/euYfIs53iU pic.twitter.com/MPGqN2X2YQ
— ITV Wales News (@ITVWales) November 8, 2019
When he came out in 2009, Gareth was the highest-profile sportsman in the country to reveal that he was gay. Earlier this year, he announced he was forced to reveal his HIV diagnosis after a tabloid newspaper threatened to publish it. The ex-fullback, who captained both Wales and the British Lions, is thought to be the first UK sportsman to go public about living with HIV.
In recent interviews, Mr Thomas said he was driven to suicidal thoughts as a result of his diagnosis, but Harry as well as The Duke of Cambridge have praised the Welshman for revealing he was HIV positive.
The Royal and the rugby player decided to work together after Harry texted Gareth asking to chat a few days after he revealed his HIV status in a Twitter video, now watched almost five million times and following a Sunday newspaper interview in September.
The Terrence Higgins Trust, a voluntary sector provider of HIV and sexual health services, said the day after the Welshman’s announcement was the charity’s busiest since launching their HIV self-test kits.
Gareth spoke movingly about the “unbelievable” support he received from The Duke of Sussex after sharing the news. Gareth, who captained Wales and the Lions, was today announced as an HIV Commissioner and met Harry for the first time at an event to highlight the importance of HIV testing.
Gareth is now lending his support to a campaign set up by the Terrence Higgins Trust and National Aids Trust, as part of the HIV Commission. The Commission was set up earlier this year with the goal of ending new transmissions of the disease in England in the next decade.
He said: “For me to be HIV commissioner right now is my next step and it means everything because I’m keeping moving forward. And to be part of a group of people who have the common goal of ending new transmissions in England by 2030 is a huge privilege, and something I’m unbelievably passionate about because I know what it’s like to live with the stigma.
“I feel like my part to play is understanding why people are still feeling like this and showing them and telling them the real facts about living with HIV today. The fear and the stigma need to be broken because the facts that people know today are not facts any more, they are myths.”
“He’s been unbelievably supportive of me from the start. I don’t just mean supportive in a role, I mean supportive as a human being. I think sometimes when people think of people who are Royalty or on another level, they sometimes forget the fact that they are humans and he realised what I did from a human level. He realised the effects it would have on something that his mother was very passionate about and he is now unbelievably passionate about.”
Speaking ahead of their meeting at the Twickenham Stoop, home to Harlequins RFC, Gareth revealed he and the Duke had been in close contact since his revelation in September.
“It started as him just wanting to show his support to me. When you have something in common with someone, regardless of where you both come from, you have some kind of common ground and from that we’ve been in regular contact, yes about today, but also just about being mates to each other because we both want to drive things forward together.
“When I’m listening to myself now it feels bizarre, but when I’m on the phone or texting him it doesn’t feel bizarre because he really cares; he’s not doing this today because it’s a duty, he’s doing it because he cares about it. I lose the fact that I realise he’s a Prince – it’s gone.”
Harlequins captain and former England star Chris Robshaw praised the pair, saying he would welcome more education in the sport about testing and the condition. After the trio watched a demonstration of how to take a test at home with a mobile kit in 10 minutes, he said: “It’s so easy to do I think a lot of people will do it.”
Before a group photograph with the team squad, Robshaw presented a mini Harlequins jersey to Harry for his six-month-old son with ‘Archie’ on the back.