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Welsh rugby star Gareth Thomas says journalist revealed his HIV status to his parents

Welsh rugby legend Gareth Thomas has said a journalist revealed his HIV positive status to his parents before he had told them himself.

Thomas, 45, has also said he was forced to go public about his condition as a result of tabloid interest and would otherwise have stayed silent.

He revealed his HIV diagnosis in the Sunday Mirror at the weekend. The paper said it was approached by the sportsman to go public with his story.

Thomas, who was the first rugby player to come out as gay, has also filmed a BBC documentary about his HIV status which airs tonight on BBC One.

He told BBC Radio today that he started making the documentary following media pressure. “I would love to say I chose to [make it] but I did not choose to, because I shouldn’t have had to make the choice,” he said.

The former Wales rugby captain told Radio 5 Live that a “tabloid journalist” first told his parents he was HIV positive – he had kept it secret from them.

He said: “I needed to be able to understand everything before I sat down with my parents and before I could do that a journalist decides to knock my parents’ door and ask them to make a comment on it.

“Now if that’s not the lowest form – you know what it’s wrong of me to even call it a journalist because as somebody who’s put my parents through a lot I didn’t want to put them through anymore.”

He added: “That person came and took that moment away from me.”

Thomas declined to identify the newspaper that had sent the journalist to speak to his parents when invited to do so on air, but said cryptically: “…everybody will know, especially of late”.

His comment could point to the Sun, which has so far declined to comment.

The top-selling daily paper stoked controversy only yesterday after revealing the tragic past of England cricketer Ben Stokes’ mother. Stokes hit out in a public statement, labelling it “utterly disgusting”.

The Sun says it wrote the story with the co-operation of a family member and approached Stokes for comment prior to publishing.

Asked what he would say to the journalist who knocked on his parents’ door, Thomas said: “I would like to see these people be able to be strong enough to turn around and say do you know what I’m sorry.

“I’m sorry I shouldn’t have done it, and then I can forgive and move on.”

But Thomas also praised the Mirror titles for their handling of his story. He said: “There’s a lot of good journalists out there.

“The Sunday Mirror and the Daily Mirror have helped me promote the campaign and are going to stick with me to promote the campaign and be a part of [HIV charity] the Terrence Higgins Trust and it rejuvenated my belief in people.”

A Mirror spokesperson said: “We are honoured that Gareth Thomas came to us to share his story last weekend.

“We worked with him and the Terrence Higgins Trust every step of the way to ensure that the coverage was sensitive and responsible, and we are pleased that he trusted us with this.”

Asked if he felt more needed to be done as regards the media covering stories such as his HIV positive status and Stokes’ family tragedy, Thomas said: “It’s insane and I think it’s getting worse, it’s not getting better.”

“There’s rules and laws that are being created, but I can tell you now for the good couple of years that I’ve been living in fear of it being published I’ve learnt the law of what people can and can’t do, but the tabloids will create their own law and you’ll send them a letter and all they’ll do, they’ll just ignore it and then they’ll do another thing…

“They might say it’s in the public interest, but the reality is no-one in the public is even interested.”

Picture: BBC

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2 thoughts on “Welsh rugby star Gareth Thomas says journalist revealed his HIV status to his parents”

  1. Whichever newspaper did this makes me ashamed of my profession. There aren’t that many legitimate reasons to go to a famous person’s family hunting for a quote – but to essentially perpetuate the enduring and shameful stigma that still exists around HIV (“what will his elderly parents make of it? Are they ashamed? Are they afraid he’ll die?) is appalling. There is a clear, actionable breach of confidence by whoever informed this tabloid of Gareth’s HIV status – when you’re diagnosed you tell a small circle only plus any partners. That “moment” Gareth talks about, when you decide to widen that circle, should have been his. I had a similar experience when someone decided the gossip value was simply too great to keep his trap shut – he was one of only two people I told at first. Two days later, even nodding acquaintances in a nightclub knew. The betrayal is horrible. Medical information is private and unless it’s a political leader or the Monarch, when government or the country may be affected, it is simply no-one else’s business. Would a reporter have been dispatched to Wales if it had been cancer or Parkinson’s or anything else but HIV? That an editor on this paper made that distinction speaks volumes about the total lack of understanding about HIV in 2019. That the reporter didn’t flat out refuse to go (I would have) is shabby. I’ve done stories myself on HIV – and found astonishment in colleagues at how effective treatments are now, what an undetectable viral load means, which comes with the corresponding “not much of a story is it then if it’s not a killer any more?”. How many miracle cures or vaccines for everything based on a single study get plastered on page 1? Yet when PrEP was being fought over in the courts, it was dubbed a “promiscuity pill” by one paper, rather than greeted as one of the most important planks in the UK’s (highly successful) strategy to reduce the number of new infections to zero within the next decade.
    I understand the journalistic urge (of being scooped by your nearest rival) to find an angle that will take the story on, get an exclusive quote. And of course, I share it as we all do. But the editorial judgement that believed it acceptable for a reporter to reveal incredibly private medical information, which the medical profession would be sanctioned or struck off for doing, is so morally bankrupt that I hope whichever regulator that paper follows (let’s face it, it’s IPSO) looks at that behaviour seriously, dismisses whatever fig-leaf justification the paper tries to hide behind, and makes a proper example of them.

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