Former Wales rugby star Gareth Thomas has revealed he is HIV positive.
Thomas, who came out as gay in 2009, is thought to be the first UK sportsman to go public about living with the virus, and has revealed he was driven to suicidal thoughts as a result of his diagnosis.
He went public with his illness after being put “through hell” by blackmailers who threatened to expose his secret.
The 45-year-old told the Sunday Mirror: “I’ve been living with this secret for years.
— Gareth Thomas (@gareththomas14) September 14, 2019
“I’ve felt shame and keeping such a big secret has taken its toll.
“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.”
The former British and Irish Lions captain, who will be a TV pundit in the upcoming Rugby World Cup in Japan, said he “broke down” when he got the news of his diagnosis.
Thomas said: “I went for a routine sexual health test at a private clinic in Cardiff.
“I didn’t feel ill and thought everything was going to be fine.
“When (the doctor) said those words… I immediately thought I was going to die.
“I felt like an express train was hitting me at 300mph. Then I was thinking ‘how long have I got left?'”
He added: “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.”
The former Cardiff Blues player won 103 caps and scored 41 tries for Wales between 1995 and 2007, and he is 13th on the all-time international test try-scoring list.
Last November, he was attacked in Cardiff city centre in a homophobic hate crime, but asked South Wales Police to deal with the 16-year-old assailant by way of restorative justice.
The sportsman now takes one tablet containing four medications each day, and doctors have said his condition is under control to the point that it is considered “undetectable” and cannot be passed on.
Thomas said that his husband Stephen, who he met after his diagnosis and married three years ago, does not have HIV.
The former full-back added that telling his parents – Yvonne 70, and Barry, 69, “empowered” him and that his parents and loved ones are supportive.
Thomas said he hopes that his openness will help end the stigma around the condition.
The Terrence Higgins Trust said Mr Thomas’ story will “transform attitudes towards HIV that are stuck in the 1980s”.
The HIV charity said: “Gareth is proof that an HIV diagnosis shouldn’t stop you from doing anything you want to do.
“Gareth blazed a trail by being the first rugby player to come out as gay and has done so much to encourage inclusion and diversity within the sport.
“Now he is doing that once again with HIV, showing that this virus doesn’t need to be a barrier when you’re diagnosed and accessing treatment.”
For confidential support call the Samaritans on 116123, or visit a local Samaritans branch.
The coach of the current Wales rugby team Warren Gatland was asked about the Thomas news at the team’s World Cup training camp in Kitakyushu, Japan.
“It’s always sad when an ex-professional sportsman picks up an illness of any kind,” he said.
“Our thoughts go out to him and we hope things are as good as they possibly can be.
“As the players become aware of the news, I’m sure they’ll talk about it.”