WALES rugby legend Gareth Thomas has revealed he is HIV positive - and admitted the diagnosis left him wanting to "drive off a cliff".
The Celebrity Big Brother star, 45, stunned the sporting world by dramatically declaring he is living with the incurable virus.
He timed the announcement as he prepared for a gruelling ‘Ironman’ contest on Sunday.
And Thomas – who won 100 caps for Wales and ‘came out’ as gay in December 2009 while he was still playing – said he wants to reduce the stigma of living with HIV.
He told The Sunday Mirror: “I’ve been living with this secret for years. I’ve felt shame and keeping such a big secret has taken its toll.
"I had a fear people would judge me and treat me like a leper because of a lack of knowledge. I was in a dark place, feeling suicidal. I thought about driving off a cliff.
"To me, wanting to die was just a natural thought and felt like the easier way out, but you have to confront things.
"And having a strong support system and the personal strength and experience of overcoming those emotions got me through it.
"Many people live in fear and shame of having HIV, but I refuse to be one of them now. We need to break the stigma once and for all.
"I’m speaking out because I want to help others and make a difference.”
He found out that he was HIV positive after he went for a routine sexual health test at a clinic in Cardiff.
Gareth, who was married to teen sweetheart Jemma for six years before coming out, said: “I sat down on a chair next to a doctor’s bench. She told me in a quite matter of fact way I had tested HIV positive.
"When she 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 300mph. I wasn’t expecting it at all.
"Then I was thinking ‘how long have I got left?’ I was distraught.”
STAR SOBBED IN DOC'S ARMS
6ft 3in, 16 stone, Gareth went straight to hospital after sobbing on the shoulder of the doctor who gave him the news.
He said: "She treated me with such empathy and understanding and after about 20 minutes I got myself together."
As he drove to Cardiff Royal Infirmary, he called a friend in tears: "I told him, ‘I’ve got HIV – I’m going to die’.
"He was trying to comfort and reassure me and telling me to go and speak to the doctors, but I’d already made my mind up that my life was over."
But Gareth’s condition is now under control to the point it is considered 'undetectable' and cannot be passed on. He also receives regular counselling and check-ups.
He said: "I think if you went out on the street right now and told 10 people you have HIV, 50 per cent of them would be scared you’re going to give it to them.
"I don’t blame people for thinking it, because I did too, but we need to change that by talking about it and educating people."
Last night, a close friend of the ex-player, who is fighting HIV with antiretroviral drugs, said: "Everyone is shocked and worried for Gareth – but the important thing is he’s fit and well.
"He’s a remarkable individual who is mentally equipped to deal with this.
"Gareth is a hero in Wales where he is respected for what he achieved on the rugby field and off it and we will support him through this.
"He’s had this condition for quite a while so he’s been living with a terrible secret.
"I hope people lining the route cheer extra loudly when he passes them on the road."
Last November Thomas was beaten up in Cardiff by a 16-year-old boy in a sickening homophobic attack.
A South Wales Police spokesman said: "We can confirm a local 16-year-old boy was dealt with by way of restorative justice following the incident at around 9pm.
"Restorative justice was at the request of Mr Thomas and accepted by the teenager who admitted assault and was apologetic for his actions."