Former Welsh rugby captain Gareth Thomas announced he is HIV positive after “evils” threatened to out him. (Clemens Bilan/AFP/Getty)
Welsh rugby star and TV personality Gareth Thomas has described being “petrified” each time someone knocked on his door, while he was blackmailed over being HIV-positive.
In 2019, Thomas was forced to publicly reveal his HIV status after a publication threatened to do it for him, but was met with praise from fans and HIV advocates across the UK.
The gay athlete told the Chris Evans Breakfast Show that he was blackmailed after those who knew his secret “used it to their advantage”.
“Living with HIV and keeping it a secret from so many people became really difficult, so I decided to entrust a few people to support me and to help me through it,” he said.
“I realised that when you give people information about you that you want to be kept secret, you become their property and sadly there are people in this world ,whether we like to admit it or not, who use that to their advantage.
“Somebody used it to try and extract money from me, to try and out me, to use the press power against me.
“But that’s when I decided I’m in control of my own life, regardless of what powerful organisations decide what they want to do about my life and my story.”
Thomas said that although he was “petrified” while being blackmailed, he turned that fear “into a strength”.
He said: “Every time a car pulled up outside the house, every time there was a knock on the door, I was petrified because of who may be sitting in a car taking a picture, who’s knocking on our door telling me they’re going to print the story or another revelation.
“But I realised… fear in your life is ever-present, but the best part of fear is overcoming it because you only really realise who you are or what you’re fearful of on the other side.”
He added: “Allowing fear in is not a bad thing because if you’re able to overcome it, then my day is a success.
“It’s a constant spiral of living in a shell, being controlled by other people just because this other person feels that your vulnerability is a weakness.
“I turned it into a strength, I accepted it. I looked at it, I assessed it. I dealt with it and it became a great way of me realising how strong I am.”
Gareth Thomas now works to tackle the stigma facing those living with HIV.
Since revealing his HIV diagnosis, Gareth Thomas has discovered the power in “representing a community of people living with HIV, who have been so unrepresented, so misinterpreted”.
He added: “I wanted to get people to realise that the stigma about HIV doesn’t need to exist – I don’t need to be blackmailed for living with HIV.
“You don’t get blackmailed for living with cancer or living with diabetes… however, you feel that somebody can still blackmail you for it, and I wanted to dispel that myth.”
In his recently released book Stronger, Thomas explores struggles throughout his life, from his school years to his HIV diagnosis.
“The reality is I never wanted to write it,” he said.
“I was put into a position being forced to say something about myself that I thought nobody else needed to know.
“But through telling that story and overcoming my fear, taking control of my own life, I realised that the potential of who I am is on the other side of fear rather than that people control me and how I feel.
“So it was liberating and really cathartic.”