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Tuesday, November 24, 1998 Published at 19:04 GMT


Aids and Me

Nigel Wrench, 38, is living life to the full

Nigel Wrench is a BBC Radio 4 presenter. In 1993 he discovered he was HIV positive and in 1995 he developed fully blown Aids.

Nigel spoke to BBC News Online about his programme for Radio 4, Aids and Me.

Why did you make this programme now?

Click here to listen
I made it for World Aids Day next week but it's been something I wanted to do for a couple of years. It's a good time for me to do it now because my health is quite good. If I wasn't doing so well on my drugs, which I am, then I think it would have been hard to be this reflective. If this is a window of good health... then it's one I wanted to seize.

What's the programme about?

It's a first person account. Originally we thought of it as a diary, but we thought of it as a diary when my life was sort of health-wise quite dramatic, when things were up and down and nasty things were happening. When my life became quite ordinary my producer, David Cook, and I had to rethink it.

It's completely unscripted, so from that point it's certainly a departure in radio for me. I sat in a studio for an hour with the producer and I just talked about a variety of topics. Interspersed with that are a series of extracts from interviews that were done with my mother, who lives in South Africa, with some of my closest friends with an ex-boyfriend of mine and with my doctor, just talking about the impact of Aids on various relationships I have.

What we aimed to do was create the idea of the way in which this virus creates a kind of community of people, that it isn't an isolated event when somebody gets HIV. A lot people think that getting this kind of illness is very lonely, well it is in one way, in another there is a whole community of people around you, and that's what the programme hopes to reflect.

What has been harder for you to deal with, the illness or people's attitudes?

On the whole, with the odd exception, people have been fantastic. I think it's brought out the best in all my friends and the best in all the people I work with at the BBC. The two things that are difficult are firstly the physical illness. I was very ill a three years ago, and that was horrible, and I've been ill a couple of times and been down and my blood count has been awful, so that's scary. I haven't been mortally ill in the way that people were when many more people were dying of Aids and HIV, but I've been ill enough to know that I don't want to go there again.

I think the most difficult thing though was coming to terms with first knowing that you are HIV positive. Your life is quite dramatically shortened and is finite. The second is that moving onto Aids and that kind of mental adjustment which is difficult.

Do you think attitudes to Aids are changing?

I think that people feel that Aids is over now and it's not. So to some extent I think attitudes are changing because people think that the illness has changed and they think that it's alright now and that they shouldn't be worried anymore - all of which of course is wrong.

People should obviously be on the alert in terms of it being infectious on the one hand - but it's not over for those people with HIV and Aids either. I think the whole thing is less panicky, which is largely a function of the drugs. So when you tell people you have Aids you are not saying I am going to die in nine months time... people think you are going to live for a long time. Which may or may not be true, although that's what they want to think, which is very nice.

On the other hand I think people are still shocked when you talk about it. I think another terminal illness, like cancer, would have been easier to explain to people like my mother, not to people in my own social circle because for gay people HIV is around, but to other people.

It would be easier because there isn't the stigma attached to cancer, maybe because cancer isn't about sex and Aids is, fundamentally. For most people who have it around the world it's about a sexual act and I think understandably it's quite hard for people to confront. Particularly when it involves homosexuality which is less understandably harder for people to confront still.

What do you hope your programme will say to people?

I think maybe I have a hope of what people will get from our programme - for people who don't have Aids it is a window into the lives of the millions of those of who do. It's a window into the life of one very lucky one amongst many, to be living in a first world country with access to all of the drugs.

And to those people, who like me, have Aids, it shows that hopefully, you can live a full life and live with the virus. If people would draw that from it, that would be fantastic. If people gained any sort of strength from it, well, that's what I want to give.

Aids and Me was made by AllOut Productions

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