A mother-of-three who had unprotected sex says she never dreamed she was at risk of HIV – because ‘only African people could get it’.
Rachel Dilley, 48, developed the condition nearly a decade ago.
Appearing on ITV’s This Morning to discuss her diagnosis, she said she hadn’t realised at the time that ‘white people had ever had it’.
She told amazed hosts Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby that the risks had genuinely never crossed her mind.It was in 2004, just short of her 40th birthday, when she embarked on online dating, having split from her partner of 20 years and the father of her children the year before.
She began dating a man called Simon* and said the pair seemed to click and get on well.
Over the course of the summer, their relationship progressed physically. But because of her age, she says she knew she wouldn’t get pregnant – so didn’t think about protection.
But she also hadn’t given a second thought to HIV. ‘I didn’t know anything about it – I didn’t know it was even possible to catch it,’ she explained.
When quizzed by Philip Scofield about how sex education campaigns and messages had passed her by, she admitted they simply had.
Within a few months, the relationship between Ms Dilley and Simon was over – and shortly afterwards she began to feel unwell.
‘I had swollen glands, a sore throat, a temperature and couldn’t eat properly,’ she recalled. ‘It was like a really severe bout of the flu.’ After tests were inconclusive, it was suggested – to her surprise – she should take an HIV test.
‘I thought “why?”,’ she explained. ‘I just didn’t know anything about it – I just thought you got it in Africa. I didn’t know a white person had ever got it.’ Her comments were described by Philip as ‘extremely naive’.
She went on to explain that a week after taking the test, she received the devastating news that she was, indeed, HIV positive.
‘I felt like I was walking into a black hole – and my first words were “am I going to die”?
‘It sounds stupid now – as now I know that HIV is not a death sentence.
‘My children, who were teenagers at the time, took the news well – as did my mother when she was alive.’
But she added not everyone has been fine about her diagnosis. ‘A friend’s daughter didn’t want me near her baby. It did upset me at the time, but it just shows that, like me, she wasn’t educated on it either.’
Today, Ms Dilley takes two drugs in the morning and one in the evening and tries to keep her immune system strong.
She also admitted she ‘doesn’t have much to do with men’ – and said people of all ages need to be more aware of the risks of HIV.
‘I will not be defined by it [my illness] – people love me for who I am,’ she added.