Ex-Wales rugby captain Thomas was blackmailed before HIV revelation

Kieran CANNING
Gareth Thomas said press intrusion forced him to go public with his HIV diagnosis (AFP Photo/CLEMENS BILAN)

London (AFP) - Former Wales and British and Irish Lions rugby captain Gareth Thomas revealed on Sunday he was blackmailed prior to publicly announcing he is HIV positive.

The 45-year-old has released an emotional video on social media explaining that by going public, he hopes to remove some of the stigma over the disease.

The BBC will broadcast a documentary on Wednesday where Thomas, who came out as gay in 2009, explains how in 2018 he felt like dying and speaks of the "shame" and "fear" he felt over keeping his condition secret.

Thomas was targeted by what he described as "sick" blackmailers, who threatened to reveal that he was HIV positive.

"I've been threatened by people who said they would give away my secret. It's sick and I've been through hell," Thomas told the Sunday Mirror.

"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."

- 'I want to empower people' -

However, Thomas hopes that by coming forward publicly, others will also feel liberated in the knowledge they can still live a happy and active live while HIV positive.

"The reason I'm doing this is firstly I want to remember what it's like to feel free," added Thomas.

"And by doing that, I want to empower so many other people who are in the exactly same position as me and probably be ten times worse."

Among those offering support for Thomas was Prince William.

"Courageous as ever – legend on the pitch and legend off it. You have our support Gareth," read a message from William posted on Kensington Palace's social media channels.

On Saturday, Thomas revealed the depth of shock and depression when he was first diagnosed, but believes there needs to be more public awareness that the disease is not fatal.

"When I first found out that I was going to have to live with HIV, the first thing I thought was straight away: I was going to die," he said.

"It's not like I blame people for not knowing this.

"This is a subject that because of the 1980s scenarios people don't talk about it because that's the only information they have."

Thomas says the condition has little impact on his day-to-day life given the advances in medicine other than taking a single pill every day and visiting the hospital for blood tests every six months.

Thomas made his Test debut for Wales in 1995 and went on to win 100 caps as well as three for the Lions in 2005.

He retired from professional rugby in 2011. Thomas took part in an Iron Man competition in Tenby in Wales on Sunday, for which he learned to swim.