Welsh rugby legend Gareth Thomas has spoken out about the "unbelieveable" support he received from the Duke of Sussex after going public with his HIV status earlier this year. Gareth, who captained Wales and the Lions, was today announced as a HIV Commissioner and met Harry for the first time at an event to highlight the importance of HIV testing.
WATCH: Prince Harry joins Gareth Thomas at Terrence Higgins Trust event
"He's been unbelievably supportive of me from the start," he told HELLO! "I don't just mean supportive in a role, I mean supportive as a human being. I think sometimes when people think of people who are royalty or on another level, they sometimes forget the fact that they are humans and he realised what I did from a human level. He realised the effects it would have on something that his mother was very passionate about and he is now unbelievably passionate about."
Speaking ahead of their meeting at the Twickenham Stoop, home to Harlequins RFC, Gareth revealed he and the Duke had been in close contact since he revealed he was living with HIV in September. He told HELLO!: "It started as him just wanting to show his support to me. When you have something in common with someone, regardless of where you both come from, you have some kind of common ground and from that we’ve been in regular contact, yes about today, but also just about being mates to each other because we both want to drive things forward together.
Gareth and Harry share a hug
"When I'm listening to myself now it feels bizarre, but when I'm on the phone or texting him it doesn't feel bizarre because he really cares, he's not doing this today because it's a duty, he's doing it because he cares about it. I lose the fact that I realise he's a prince – it's gone."
Told many in Wales consider him to be rugby royalty, Gareth joked: "I'm the prince of a council estate in Bridgend!" He also revealed he had resisted joking with Harry about England's defeat to South Africa in the Rugby World Cup final: "I texted him actually to say England are in the final, are you coming out. I was leaving Japan not long after he was arriving but he had a really busy diary, because I wanted to be the first person to say to him, actually I think I know exactly what's going to happen. England ain't going to win! But I didn’t get the chance. I didn't drop that bomb in a text."
Gareth described South Africa's win as "like a fairytale book with a perfect ending," saying that the Duke "went into the South African changing room and he realised it [the win] transcended rugby. I don’t think anyone could argue with that. Even with my history of rugby and my passion for Wales and my ability to mock the English I think it would have just been a bit out of place because of that moment – I would have put my size 12 right in it!"
Harry was given a rugby jersey with son Archie's name on it
The sportsman now has another campaign to get behind, as part of the HIV Commission, which was set up by the Terence Higgins Trust and National Aids Trust earlier this year with the goal of ending new transmissions of the disease in England in the next decade. He said: "For me to be HIV commissioner right now is my next step and it means everything because I'm keeping moving forward. And to be part of a group of people who have the common goal of ending new transmissions in England by 2030 is a huge privilege and something I'm unbelievably passionate about because I know what it's like to live with the stigma.
"I feel like my part to play is understanding why people are still feeling like this and showing them and telling them the real facts about living with HIV today. The fear and the stigma need to be broken because the facts that people know today are not facts any more, they are myths."
Harlequins captain and former England star Chris Robshaw praised the pair saying he would welcome more education in the sport about testing and the condition. After the trio watched a demonstration of how to do carry out a test at home with a mobile kit in 10 minutes, he said: "It’s so easy to do I think a lot of people will do it."
Before a group photograph with the team squad, Robshaw presented a mini Harlequins jersey to Harry for his six-month-old son with 'Archie' on the back.
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