Susanna Dawson became a prominent Aids awareness campaigner after Gill, the character she played in 'EastEnders', died of the disease last year. She lives in London with her son, Joe, aged seven.
I've had some terrible experiences of the kind of prejudice HIV-positive people face. I still come across total strangers who believe I'm Gill, somehow resurrected, and that I've got Aids. I've been slapped and spat at in the street, booed off the field in a charity match . . . it makes you feel so alone, so scared - especially at night. I've picked up the phone at 2am to hear some guy screaming: 'You're a dirty bitch, spreading disease throughout the world.'
Of course this has had an enormous effect on my personal life. I still wake up sometimes and look in the mirror and panic, imagining I can see some strange mark on my face or another sign of the disease. I haven't had an HIV test although, like many people, I had unsafe sex before I knew about Aids. Being on my own with a child I simply don't feel strong enough to cope with a positive diagnosis.
Gill's death changed my life. I decided to stop wasting time on people and things that were ultimately trivial. I determined to join the fight against Aids and the ignorance surrounding it. My own attitude to relationships has changed. I would never have sex without a condom. Nor would I sleep with somebody unless there was the chance of a future with them. Apart from anything else, I've never wanted Joe to have to come to terms with a string of 'uncles'.
But they're wonderful, aren't they, men? I do love them, though I've gone off actors a bit - they can be so neurotic. And I'm certainly not against sex: it's fun and it's pleasurable - we'd all be dried up old figs without it.
I don't go out much - getting a baby-sitter is quite expensive. Joe has to be in his pyjamas and dressing gown by 8pm - I think a fairly strict routine is important; he's allowed down until 8.30pm and then bed - well, that's the theory] If I am involved in a relationship I tell Joe that just as he's allowed to have a friend to stay the night, so am I. Otherwise he does like to come and snuggle up in my bed for a while]
I usually go to bed quite early with a glass of wine and some cheese and write notes. I am always very lucid last thing at night and ideas come back to me then, so I make sure I have paper and pens by the bed. I have no trouble sleeping, even when I'm under pressure, but will often wake at 3am, which is a magical, mystical time for me. It's as though I'm looking through a window at my life and everything suddenly becomes clear. A lot of major decisions have been made at that hour.
When I wake up in the night I always go into Joe's room. He looks so peaceful sleeping, with his little angel face. Then - it sounds horribly sentimental but I believe in it - I whisper in his ear. I tell him that he's special, that he's going to have a great day tomorrow. That's all I want for him - not to be a great nuclear physicist but just to be happy and have a really good time.
'The Gill and Mark Story', an Aids education video, is available at major outlets, pounds 12.99. 'Gill and Mark' by Susanna Dawson is published by Red Fox at pounds 3.50.
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