Gareth Thomas threatened by blackmailers who wanted to expose HIV diagnosis   Mirror Online

Gareth Thomas threatened by blackmailers who wanted to expose HIV diagnosis Mirror Online

Gareth Thomas threatened by blackmailers who wanted to expose HIV diagnosis Mirror Online WORLD EXCLUSIVE: Rugby hero forced to break news about illness to mum and dad because of threats and it was andapos;hardest thing I andapos;ve ever had to do andapos; Gareth Thomas was threatened by sick blackmailers as he tried to keep his HIV diagnosis secret from family and friends. The rugby hero today reveals how it forced him to break the news about his illness to his mum and dad the hardest thing he says he has ever had to do. Gareth tells of the threats that put him in the darkest place ever” as he reveals another more joyful secret that he is now happily married to husband Stephen. The 45 year old Welsh legend says: Ive been threatened by people who said they would give away my secret. Its sick and Ive 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. 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.” Gareth initially hid the devastating diagnosis from his loving parents Yvonne, 70, and Barry, 69, for years. But he finally decided to tell them and his two older brothers Steven and Richard after fearing his secret was about to be exposed. When I was diagnosed I decided straight away not to tell my family. I wanted to protect them and I didnt want to put them through the pain,” he says. But then I realised that I had to be truthful with my family and my friends and slowly, as I began to tell them, it empowered me. Telling my parents was one of the hardest conversations Ive ever had to have because Id do anything not to hurt them.” Yvonne, a retired hospital secretary, and Barry, a former postman, initially struggled to understand Gareths diagnosis and were left fearing the worst after living through the 1980s AIDS crisis. Gareth says: I could see that they were frightened for me when I first told them. But I explained everything to them and told them Im not dying, why Im not dying and that because of the medication Im on the virus isnt transmittable to anyone else. They said, and x2018;Youre our son and if you tell us youre not ill and your lifes not in danger, thats good enough for us and we will support you. My parents and loved ones are fine with it. I was worried about how it would affect them, but I think sometimes I underestimate people. Theyre amazing.” Gareth says his husband Stephen, kept secret until now, does not have HIV. They live together with Stephens 23 year old daughter Anna in the Welsh town of Bridgend. The pair, who met while both helping to school troubled kids, got married nearly three years ago in front of about 70 close friends and family, including Gareths close pal and x2018;H from pop band Steps. Gareth a friend to royalty who was invited to William and Kates wedding says: Me and Stephen have been together four and a half years and I told him about my diagnosis early on in our relationship. The number of Britons diagnosed with HIV fell again last year to 4,484 from a peak of 7,982 in 2005. Of the latest affected, 1,908 were gay or bisexual men and 1,550 were heterosexuals, including women. A further 94 people contracted the virus by injecting drugs and 98 via other exposures including mother to child transmission, healthcare related work and blood products. The cause of the remaining diagnoses is unknown. The Public Health England statistics show that 96,142 people receive care for HIV, a large rise from 65,249 in 2009. The virus has passed between humans for decades but was only identified in the 1980s. Sufferers experience a short flu like illness then, as HIV weakens their immune system, show signs of other ailments. These include weight loss, night sweats, an increase in cold sore outbreaks and swollen glands. Till the early 90s, most people with HIV were later diagnosed with AIDS. Now, thanks to modern anti retroviral treatment, very few in the UK develop serious HIV related illnesses. Last year there were 473 deaths among HIV sufferers. Stephen is from the Valley and isnt used to media attention or the idea of giving interviews, but he loves me and supports me 100 percent in what Im doing. I was afraid of telling him, but I remember thinking, and x2018;If you are who I think you are, this wont be an issue. And if it had been an issue, then it wouldnt have been the right match anyway. Stephen had a lack of knowledge about HIV at that time, which was good because it meant he didnt have the stigma towards it many people have and nothing daunts him. There are so many false misconceptions, outdated opinions and inaccurate information on the internet about HIV. Doctors always say do not and x2018;what will happen if I have HIV? The medication Im on now makes the virus untransmittable. Theres no possibility of it being passed on at all from anything blood, saliva or sex. People will say, and x2018;Youve got HIV because of your lifestyle. But theyll also have diabetes or high because of their lifestyle. Ive learned to cope with my diagnosis and I always say now, and x2018;Im living with HIV. I know I have HIV, but HIV doesnt have me. It doesnt control me. I live with it. Its easier for me to say it in that terminology because it makes it easier for me to accept. It makes such a difference. In our day to day lives me and Stephen never mention HIV now because theres no need to. Its under control and Stephen and Anna both know what they need to know.” Gareth made headlines around the world when he came out while still a professional rugby union star in December 2009. In 2010 he was voted one of the 101 most influential gay people in the UK and received Stonewalls Hero of the Year award. He has since advised a range of sportsmen, from diver Tom Daley to cricketer Steven Davies, on what to expect when they share the secret of their sexuality. And he now hopes that by revealing he is HIV positive he can again inspire others. Gareth adds: Ill never be proud of being HIV positive, but I accept it and Im okay about it now. I couldnt have even imagined doing this six months ago, but Im ready now. I hope by telling my story I can help other people. Thats what I want to achieve.” A politician who revealed he is HIV positive during a House of Commons debate says going public was the best decision of his life, writes Nicola Small. And Labours Lloyd Russell Moyle revealed Gareth Thomas turned to him for support ahead of his decision to speak to the Sunday Mirror. The Brighton Kemptown MP, 33, was close to tears when he revealed his own diagnosis last year. But now he says: Speaking out was the best decision I ever made. It was such a huge relief. It meant I could just be who I was. ” He added: Of course there have been a handful of people who have rung the office to say nasty things, calling me diseased and saying how I deserved it. But the overwhelming reaction has been extremely positive.” Gareth got in touch with Lloyd last week through the Terrence Higgins Trust and the pair have exchanged a few emails. Lloyd said: I think he was looking for a bit of reassurance that he had made the right decision. I was able to tell him he was absolutely doing the right thing and to wish him luck. I said it was better to get this off his chest, but also to think about the lives hell change. Gareth is a huge name in sport and to have role models that can say, and x2018;Actually my life carries on, is so important. What he is doing is incredibly important for sport.”

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