Freddie Mercury going public with his HIV diagnosis before he died was a “cultural touchstone moment”, a charity boss has said on the 30th anniversary of the singer’s death.
Deborah Gold, the chief executive of the National Aids Trust, reflected on the Queen star’s life and legacy, and how far the world has come in the fight against Aids since the flamboyant and charismatic frontman died aged 45 on November 24 1991, after suffering with bronchial pneumonia resulting from Aids.
The writer and performer of much-loved anthems including We Are The Champions and Bohemian Rhapsody revealed he was HIV positive the day before his death.
Ms Gold credited the Zanzibar-born singer, along with Diana, Princess of Wales, and more recently rugby league international Gareth Thomas, as someone who has had a “powerful” influence in tackling the stigma associated with Aids.
She said: “Freddie Mercury has really had a lasting legacy."
“He’s one of a small handful of people who is truly enormously internationally well-known, and so at the time his death had a huge impact."
“In the short period of time before he died, he was open about the fact that he had Aids, and when those moments happen, it’s possible to grab hold of them and use them for something else."
“I think the other members of Queen and his friends really did that through their work at the Mercury Trust."
“They were able to take a really upsetting and sad situation and used the learning from that to really impact change.”
The Mercury Phoenix Trust raised £579,021 this year, after being founded by Queen members Brian May and Roger Taylor along with their manager Jim Beach to fund Aids education and awareness projects in the developing world.
Ms Gold said Diana had an “extraordinary” effect in tackling the stigma associated with HIV when she famously visited hospitals and hugged patients during the 1980s at a time when there was mass hysteria about contagion.
She counted the late royal’s hospital visits as a powerful moment alongside the openness of Mercury in 1991 and Welsh sporting star Thomas in 2019.
Ms Gold said: “Those cultural touchstone moments become really, really important for raising awareness, for reminding people it (HIV) is still here, reminding people what they need to do to protect themselves.”
She said “extraordinary” scientific progress has been made, including the introduction of preventative medication PrEP which is taken by more than a million people worldwide, according to charity National Aids Manual, and more recently the introduction of an injectable treatment.
But Ms Gold warned there is no cure for HIV and the “enormous” stigma which still exists among some demographics is preventing people from accessing treatment.
She said: “Large numbers of people are dying around the world, and that’s really unforgivable given the medication and the technology that we have.”
The UK Government has signed a pledge to end new HIV acquisition by 2030, but Ms Gold said ministers must commit to investing £50m over the next three to five years to achieve this aim.
Ms Gold said: “It’s a really exciting goal and they could do it, but they won’t be able to do it if they just do what they’re doing now.
“It’s going to involve investment to improve HIV testing in different places, to reach different people.
“It’s true that we actually could make great strides in the fight against HIV with just a fraction of the investment that we have put into coronavirus.”
To mark the 30th anniversary of Mercury’s death, and the year which would have been his 75th birthday, the BBC will air a documentary about his life, while tribute events to Queen are being staged around the country.