Prince Harry told former rugby star Gareth Thomas how he feels a responsibility to carry on his mother’s “unfinished” work as he urged Britons to test for HIV.
Friends Harry and ex-Wales captain Thomas chatted in depth for 30 minutes in a video call to mark National HIV Testing Week.
The duke said he feels an “obligation” to try to continue Diana, Princess of Wales’s bid to remove stigma surrounding the illness, describing himself as “a typical guy” who just wants to “fix things.”
They discussed how normalising HIV testing could help achieve the goal of ending new HIV cases in the UK by 2030.
The duke, speaking from California, said: “Every single one of us has a duty, or at least an opportunity, to get tested ourselves or to make it easier for everybody else to get tested. And then it just becomes a regular thing like anything else.
“This testing week, especially in the UK, or wherever you are in the world, go and get a test. Let people know that you know your status. Do it!”
On the video call, Harry and Thomas greeted each other with the phrase “Hello bud. How you doing?”, with the duke later joking that the former sportsman was “way older” than him.
Thomas chuckled and responded by flexing one of his tattooed biceps and telling Harry: “I’ve got bigger guns than you, bud,” prompting Harry to laugh and mimic him by saying, “Oh, bigger guns”.
Asked what made him so passionate about advocating over HIV, Harry said: “Once you get to meet people and you see the suffering around the world, I certainly can’t turn my back on that.
“Then add in the fact that my mum’s work was unfinished, I feel obligated to try and continue that as much as possible.
“I could never fill her shoes, especially in this particular space, but because of what she did and what she stood for and how vocal she was about this issue… it’s a converging of all these different pieces.
“There’s a way out of it, and if there’s a way out of it and we know there’s a solution, I’m like a typical guy. I just want to help fix things.”
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The late princess, who died in a car crash in 1997, changed the global perception of HIV and Aids, raising awareness of the condition and supporting hospices.
In the late 1980s, when many still believed the disease could be contracted through casual contact, she sat by the sick bed of a man with Aids and held his hand.
Harry described how the virus used to be a death sentence, but was now a “manageable disease.”
He praised his mother’s empathy and curiosity, and said: “What my mum did and so many other people did at that time was to smash that wall down, and kick the door open and say, ‘No, when people are suffering, then we need to learn more.'
“I’ve seen huge change. People are able and happy to talk about HIV so much more openly, but the stigma still exists and therefore the testing is still a problem.”
When Harry publicly took an HIV test alongside the singer Rihanna in 2016, the broadcast contributed to a 500% increase in the number of people requesting a test on the Terrence Higgins Trust website.
He spoke of how HIV testing had dropped 30% during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Former Wales full-back Thomas, who revealed he was HIV positive in 2019, said: “It wouldn’t be scary if you understood what living with HIV in 2022 is.”
Sharing his daily medical routine with Harry, he said: “At 6am, every single day, my alarm goes off.
“I take my HIV medication which is one tablet, and I feel that my day then begins.”
Thomas, who came out as the first openly gay rugby union player in 2009, said it was a daunting experience to walk into a sexual health clinic, but he said it was so much easier to test now, in the privacy of your own home, or at drop-in clinics where there are people to talk to.
He added: “The sooner you find out if you’re positive then the sooner you can start treatment. If you leave it too late, then it can have circumstances that are irreplaceable, irreparable.”
Tackle HIV, a campaign led by Thomas in partnership with ViiV Healthcare and the Terrence Higgins Trust, aims to tackle stigma and misunderstanding around HIV.
National HIV Testing Week is run by Terrence Higgins Trust on behalf of the Department of Health.