It’s A Sin star Nathaniel Hall has detailed how the stigma around HIV led him to ‘live in silence for 15 years’ about his diagnosis.
The actor, 34, contracted HIV the first time he had sex at the age of just 16, with the actor speaking out on his experience in an unearthed 2019 interview.
And during an appearance on Friday’s edition of Steph’s Packed Lunch, Nathaniel explained the impact keeping his diagnosis a secret had on his mental health, saying that not telling his family made him suffer from PTSD and anxiety.
‘I lived in silence for 15 years’: On Friday, It’s A Sin star Nathaniel Hall detailed how his struggle with stigma around HIV led him to keep his diagnosis a secret after he contracted it aged 16
Of his experience, Nathaniel explained: ‘I found out when I was 16, I had just come out as gay, I was head boy at my school, I was a straight-A student, It was an act of rebellion.
‘I met someone, he was older than me and he was like this exotic gay preacher, he was everything I knew I wanted to be, and as a result of that relationship I contracted HIV two weeks before my 17th birthday, and then I lived in silence for about 15 years.
‘I didn’t tell my family, and I’m really close to my family so I say to people it really shows the power of stigma and shame of HIV, so I kept it secret and then I realised in 2017 that it was really impacting me in my life.
‘I had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, I had generalised anxiety disorder, my career hadn’t gone how I wanted it to, so I said I need to do something about this and that’s when I went public about my diagnosis.’
TV role: The actor is currently starring as Donald Bassett, the actor boyfriend of leading man Olly Alexander’s Ritchie Tozer in Russell T. Davies’ Channel 4 drama It’s A Sin
Struggle: Nathaniel explained, ‘I didn’t tell my family, and I’m really close to my family so I say to people it really shows the power of stigma and shame of HIV, so I kept it secret’
Detailing what it was like to tell his family, Nathaniel admitted it was ‘terrifying at first’ as he wrote a letter to his loved ones to explain his diagnosis, but joked their reaction to it was ‘underwhelming’.
‘My mum came over the next day with a house plant and I said “what’d you bring a house plant for?” And she said “well what do you bring when your son tells you that news?”‘ he explained.
‘But after that I went on to write a show about it called First Time which I performed in 2018 and took to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2019, and then that went on to tour the UK as well before the coronavirus came on the scene. So I went very public.’
Discussing the years he did keep quiet about his HIV diagnosis, Nathaniel said: ‘I was accessing healthcare, I was getting medication I needed I was having blood tests, and I was telling partners or prospective partners.
Candid: He detailed the emotional impact keeping his diagnosis a secret had on him, saying that not telling his family made him suffer from PTSD and anxiety
Stigma: Nathaniel said, ‘I realised by not saying it openly I was buying into the same narrative that it was something to be ashamed of, and I had this epiphany that I’m not ashamed’
‘But managing all that was very secretive, and a lot of rejection from people when you tell them that, you know a bad reaction and you have to live with that, the shame of that.
‘I realised by not saying it openly I was buying into the same narrative that it was something to be ashamed of, and all of a sudden I had this epiphany that I’m not ashamed of it, it’s just a virus, why am I ashamed of it?
‘The minute I flipped that script you can imagine the doors that opened to me.’
Nathaniel is currently starring as Donald Bassett, the actor boyfriend of leading man Olly Alexander’s Ritchie Tozer in Russell T. Davies’ Channel 4 drama.
Delighted: Going on to talk about It’s A Sin, Nathaniel gushed that the overwhelmingly positive reaction to the show has been ‘phenomenal’ for him and his co-stars
Concerns: The show also sparked conversation about HIV/AIDS, and he said: ‘I was worried viewers would see people scrubbing cups… those old misconceptions [would] resurface’
It’s A Sin follows a group of friends throughout the eighties as their life of hedonistic partying is infiltrated by the emergence of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
Nathaniel gushed that the overwhelmingly positive reaction to the show has been ‘phenomenal’ for him and his co-stars, as they felt ‘the story we were telling was really important.’
‘It’s all inspired by real stories and it’s within living memory so lots of people watching this would have gone through it so we all felt an anxiety that we all wanted to get it right,’ he said of the show.
It’s A Sin has also sparked conversation about HIV/AIDS, and he said: ‘I think I was worried the show is a history of HIV, and I was worried viewers would see people scrubbing cups and showering and not wanting to be near people with HIV, like those old misconceptions resurface.
Impact: He said, ‘What we’ve seen is all these amazing HIV charities and activists jumping on this moment, and the nation is talking about HIV in a way that we have not seen in years’
‘But what we’ve seen is all these amazing HIV charities across the country, and the activists jumping on this moment and the nation is talking about HIV in a way that we have not seen in years.
‘So talking about how HIV is a manageable condition, and that people are going to live long and happy, healthy lives if they get diagnosed.’
Of how it’s helped the public get educated, he added: ‘I have been a HIV activist for who knows how many years now and particularly the young cast in these, the leads, they’ve all become amazing HIV allies and the conversations they’ve had about it, we’ve never seen it like this before.’
To coincide with his new role, Attitude magazine re-released a 2019 interview with Nathaniel last month, in which he reflected on his own HIV diagnosis.
DiscussionTo coincide with his new role, Attitude magazine re-released a 2019 interview with Nathaniel last month, in which he reflected on his own HIV diagnosis
Speaking to Attitude, Nathaniel explained that he contracted HIV aged 16 after having sex for the first time.
The actor’s first sexual experience was with a man in his mid twenties who he had a whirlwind romance with.
Nathaniel was diagnosed with HIV just weeks after his 17th birthday, and was told he had a prognosis of just 37 at the time.
Of his diagnosis, he said: ‘It was like being hit by a truck. I was told at the time that I had a prognosis of 37 years. That was so hard to hear, to have a date on it.’
Honest: Of his diagnosis, he said: ‘It was like being hit by a truck. I was told at the time that I had a prognosis of 37 years. That was so hard to hear, to have a date on it’
As a young man the actor decided to keep his diagnosis a secret from the majority of his loved ones, citing the reason as: ‘I was living with so much fear and stigma, self-hatred and shame.’
After a decade of struggling with alcohol and drugs, he turned his life around in 2017 and began to work as an activist to raise awareness and reduce stigma around HIV.
In 2019 he starred at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in his one-man show First Time, in partnership with HIV Scotland, which, along with the UK government, is aiming for the UN goal of zero new HIV transmissions by 2030.
Around the same time, he told his family about his HIV status, choosing to write a letter before they came to see the show.
Acclaimed show: In 2019 he starred at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in his one-man show First Time, and told his family about his HIV status before they saw the show by writing them a letter
‘I wrote them a letter because I couldn’t bear the thought of having to do it face to face,’ he explained.
‘I knew they were going to be supportive, but that was the power of the shame.’
Nathaniel appears alongside an all-star cast in It’s A Sin, which broadcast its first episode on Channel 4 on Friday night. All five episodes are available on All 4.
Praise: It’s A Sin has received an outpouring of praise since it began on Channel 4 last month
Starring Years & Years frontman Olly Alexander alongside a cast of rising stars and celebrated favourites including Keeley Hawes, Stephen Fry and Neil Patrick Harris, It’s a Sin was universally praised by fans and celebrity viewers on Friday night.
Davies, the writer and producer behind Queer As Folk, the 2005 revival of Doctor Who and Cucumber, loosely based It’s A Sin on his own experiences in the eighties.
He also spent hours in conversation with his childhood friend Jill Nalder, an actor, ally and activist who lived in London during the decade and is played by Lydia West in the drama.
Jaw-dropping telly: Following a group of friends living in London throughout the eighties, the series weaves its way through a decade of hedonism and horror (pictured, star Olly Alexander who plays Ritchie)
Star cast: The five-part series stars Years & Years frontman Alexander alongside a cast of rising stars and celebrated favourites including Neil Patrick Harris
The real-life Jill also appears, playing Lydia’s mother in episodes four and five.
Davies cast Alexander as the show’s protagonist Ritchie Tozer, an 18-year-old hailing from an ignorant, unloving household on the Isle of Wight who throws himself headfirst into London life, soon befriending Jill and three others and renting their flat, lovingly dubbed The Pink Palace.
The cast of young talent is supported by a string of veteran screen stars, including Keeley Hawes and Shaun Dooley as Ritchie’s parents, Stephen Fry as an MP lover of outrageous flatmate Rosce (Omari Douglas) and Neil Patrick Harris as a mentor to another, the quietly observant Colin.
Watch all five episodes of It’s A Sin on All4 now. Episode two airs on Channel 4 on Friday at 9pm. It’s A Sin will also be available on HBO Max next month.
Celebrated performances: The cast of young talent is supported by a string of veteran talent, including Keeley Hawes and Shaun Dooley as Ritchie’s parents
Cameo: Stephen Fry also appears as an MP lover of Ritchie’s outrageous flatmate Rosce (Omari Douglas)