Andy Bell, the singer with the pop group Erasure, has announced he is HIV positive.
The openly gay singer was diagnosed with the virus in 1998 but waited until yesterday to declare his condition. The 40-year-old went on to make a passionate plea for less "hysteria and ignorance" surrounding the condition. The 40-year-old is one of only a few British celebrities to admit being HIV positive.
Freddie Mercury, the lead singer with Queen, died in 1991, days after he confirmed he was suffering from Aids. Holly Johnson, Frankie Goes To Hollywood's front-man, announced he had Aids in 1993, and now lives "a normal life" in north London.
Aids charities paid tribute to Bell's bravery in publicly announcing that he has been diagnosed as having the virus.
In a message on Erasure's website, Bell said he was responding to discussions on fan forums about his HIV status, as well as gossip columns reporting he had undergone a double hip replacement. The statement said: "I found out I was HIV positive in June 1998 when I had a bout of pneumonia in Majorca. Since then, I have been taking combination therapy and I am feeling fine in fact I have never felt better.
"Being HIV [positive] does not mean that you have Aids. My life expectancy should be the same as anyone else's so there is no need to panic."
Bell's spokesman in the US was quoted as saying the singer intended to speak out and raise awareness of HIV and Aids among young people.
Erasure, which Bell formed with Vince Clarke in 1985, are due to start an international tour in the spring and are releasing an album in January.
Bell's announcement comes ahead of publication of a book about him written by his partner of 20 years, Paul Hickey. It will deal with his diagnosis and how he deals with taking the drugs aimed at preventing the virus from developing into Aids.
Bell came out when he was 19 after moving from his home town of Peterborough to London with his girlfriend, who took him to his first gay club. "I came out of my first gay club totally enamoured and she was sitting in the car crying her eyes out," he recalled. Erasure topped the album charts in the late 1980s with a string of synth-pop records featuring Bell's distinctive high voice. They had 15 top ten singles including "A Little Respect" and "Sometimes", and five albums reached No 1.
At a time when other camp pop stars such as Boy George were also in the ascendant, Bell admits there was a point when he went to London gay clubs such as Heaven "week in, week out" as well as partying in Ibiza.
Four years ago, he and Mr Hickey moved to a farmhouse in Majorca, where they are now based. He says he now lives a quiet life, away from London's glamorous gay scene.
In what now seems like an eerily prescient interview in 1997, a year before he was diagnosed, Bell spoke of how he might react to discovering he was HIV positive. He told Etcetera magazine: "If I went to a doctor and tested positive, I'd feel so distraught by it. Then I'd have to keep calling up and getting my T-cell count.
"I think that's a lot of bullshit. I don't think most places offer proper counselling, which is very troubling."
Oliver Wright, of the Terence Higgins Trust, said: "We applaud Andy Bell for taking a stand and being open about his HIV-positive status.
"Sadly, there is still a great deal of ignorance and stigma surrounding HIV and Aids and we hope that his brave move will help to encourage other people to seek help and support."
He added: "There are still a lot of misconceptions that HIV is a death sentence, and having someone like Andy stand up and say he is positive, but healthy, is great."
LIVING WITH HIV
- There are 50,000 people living with HIV in Britain, half of them gay men.
- Gay men are 90 times more likely to be HIV positive than other people.
- A third of people with HIV in Britain are unaware that they are positive, according to estimates.
- HIV diagnoses have been rising since 2000, after showing a slow decline through the 1990s.
- Antiretroviral drugs can now stave off development of full-blown Aids for years.