Former Welsh rugby star Gareth Thomas was left in tears after being surprised on stage by his parents while receiving an award honouring his role as a sporting inspiration.
Thomas, 45, held his head in his hands as mother Yvonne and father Barry appeared from backstage as he received his accolade at the Mirror Pride of Sports Awards on Thursday night.
The ex-rugby player had already received tributes from music legend Sir Elton John, former England rugby star Jason Leonard and ex-Olympic swimmer Mark Foster who praised his role in breaking the “stigma” around HIV.
Thomas, who came out as gay in 2009, revealed he was HIV positive in September and is thought to be first UK sportsman to go public about living with the virus.
The former Cardiff Blues player swore and looked stunned as awards host Ben Shephard announced his parents on to the stage.
Thomas, who had thought they were back home in Wales looking after his dog, embraced his mother and father and was left wiping away tears as the audience cheered and applauded.
Yvonne joked Thomas had been a “pain” as a child, trying out a number of sports before settling on rugby, something that cost his parents “a fortune”.
Meanwhile Barry said it had been “very hard” to see his son go through “dark times”, but said he was “an inspiration now”.
Well last night wasn’t your average Thursday night!!! I collect this on behalf of everyone living in fear of stigma, as belief that there is a future , and your fears might not be the reality.x pic.twitter.com/YmXAg3xmGZ
— Gareth Thomas (@gareththomas14) December 6, 2019
Speaking earlier, Thomas said he feared nobody would accept him after revealing his HIV diagnosis.
He said: “We are all people and we all have weaknesses and we all have vulnerabilities and people want to prey on them, but what I realise, as athletes the one thing we know is how to fight and how to come out.
“Having a vulnerability and having a weakness doesn’t make you weak and there was a point where I thought it made me weak.”
He added: “If you’re an honest human being, you’re a better human being.”
Thomas said he cared “about creating a better society for people”, adding that sport could help inspire future generations.
The former British and Irish Lions captain plans to cycle 500 miles to raise money for Sport Relief.
The challenge will see him pedal from Cardiff to Aberdeen in a week with the Sports Personality of the Year trophy and he will deliver the award on stage next Sunday.
Thanking his parents on Thursday night he said he “would not be here” without them, and asked the audience to applaud them instead.
Praising Thomas, Sir Elton said: “You are an amazing brave man and you have done so much to change the stigma of HIV and Aids by admitting that you are HIV positive.
“You are a beacon of hope for so many people out there and I think you are the absolute best.”
Leonard lauded Thomas as a “great rugby player” and an “absolute champion”, while Foster, who came out as gay in November 2017, said: “I wish I had a role model and someone to look up to like you when I was younger.
“Not only are you an inspiration on the pitch, you’re an inspiration off it.”