London (CNN)Former Welsh rugby star Gareth Thomas has revealed he is HIV positive and has vowed to help "break the stigma" surrounding the illness.
Welsh rugby legend Gareth Thomas reveals he has HIV
Thomas is believed to be the first British sportsman to announce that he is living with the virus. He was also the first professional rugby union player to announce that he was gay, when he came out in 2009.
The former British Lions captain, 45, said he was forced to announce his condition after being threatened with blackmail.
"Hello I'm Gareth Thomas, and I want to share my secret with you," he said in a video posted on his Twitter page. "Why? because it's mine to tell you, not the evils who have made my life hell, threatening to tell you before I do, and because I believe in you and I trust you.
"I am living with HIV; now you have that information that makes me extremely vulnerable, but it does not make me weak."
He added that while he is being "forced" to announce his condition, he pledged to "fight to educate and break the stigma" surrounding the illness.
"I am asking you to help me to show that everyone lives in fear of people's reactions and opinions... But that doesn't mean we should have to hide, but to do this, I really, really need your support," he said.
Thomas said in an interview with the Sunday Mirror that he had been living with "this secret for years," and that the "shame" he felt from his diagnosis left him feeling suicidal.
"I was in a dark place, feeling suicidal. I thought about driving off a cliff," he told the newspaper. "To me, wanting to die was just a natural thought and felt like the easier way out, but you have to confront things."
Thomas said that he will "never forget" the moment that he received his diagnosis when going for a routine sexual health check-up in the Welsh capital, Cardiff.
"I'd had tests every now and again and they'd always come back okay. I didn't feel ill and I thought everything was going to be fine," he said. "When (the doctor) said those words, I broke down. I was in such a state. I immediately thought I was going to die. I felt like an express train was hitting me at 300 mph."