Jay Hawkridge’s mother was by his side through his dad leaving, his coming out – their bond He was invincible. Jay felt alone, scared and terrified after receiving the shocking news. A simple phone call made a difference in their lives.

Tanya and her son Jay

Tanya with Jay, her son 

 Jay Hawkridge is a handsome, blond 27-year-old with a pierced nose and arms sprinkled in tattoos. Tanya Hawkridge, his mother, is what he credits with making him a Bon Joovi fan. It also ignited a passion for music that will last a lifetime. Jay also has HIV.

‘I came out to Mum when I was 15,’ he remembers. ‘I’d been texting a boy and had told a friend who then gossiped around the school. Mum discovered me crying in my own room after I arrived home from school in a bad mood. I just said, “I think I like boys.”’

She gave her support straight away. Jay says, ‘She took it like a champ. She’d probably seen it before I’d seen it in myself.’

Tanya admits that as she’d been a young mum (she was only 20 when Jay was born, and split up with his father when Jay was a baby) she came to see him as a best friend. ‘As a child he was always so kind, so clever and thoughtful. When he knew I was having a hard time, he’d leave little notes around the house telling me he loved me.’

Jay decided to leave their home in rural Yorkshire for Birmingham University, but Tanya was not happy with the details. ‘There were a few years when I didn’t go home that often – I was off on my little adventures. You realize how many opportunities there are for gay men in big cities. You’re finding yourself and there are some things you don’t want to tell your mum.’

Among the things he didn’t tell her was that, in 2019, five days after a sexual encounter with a man in Manchester who he’d met on Instagram, he became ill enough to present himself at the local hospital. ‘I had a really high fever and no appetite,’ he recalls. ‘I felt like my body was shutting down. It was horrendous – the most ill I’ve ever been. I spent six days in hospital on a drip, most of it asleep.’

The details of what happened next are still shrouded in the delirium of Jay’s illness but he remembers that all he wanted was reassurance from his mum. ‘I saw her at my bedside. Her skin was pale like a ghost. She was pale as a ghost.

I fell asleep again. When I next woke, it was night time and she was gone – it was horrible.’ Jay was desperate to know why his body suddenly seemed to be rebelling against him but after an MRI and CT scan revealed nothing he was discharged. After a month, he felt more well but was still looking for answers. So a friend suggested that he have an entire sexual health screening.

Tanya, Jay and his baby brother Elliot, 2003.

Jay, Tanya, and Elliot his baby brother, 2003.

‘On 30 October 2019, the day before my mum’s birthday, the clinic rang and told me I’d tested positive for HIV. When I received the call, I was shopping in Birmingham with friends when it occurred to me. It was one of those rare moments where everything stops around you, like a grenade has gone off and you can’t hear anything.’

The next three months were what Jay describes as ‘the loneliest of my life’. He discovered that the dramatic illness he’d suffered was due to seroconversion, a sign that the immune system is reacting to the presence of the virus in the body. For some people this feels like a mild flu, but in Jay’s case it had been highly aggressive.

Without any idea of how he would ever tell Tanya the good news, he just avoided contact. ‘I didn’t go home for Mum’s birthday that year. I didn’t go home for my birthday in December, or for Christmas or New Year.’

Having received no update from Jay since he’d been in hospital, Tanya knew something was very wrong; she just didn’t know what. ‘To miss things like my birthday or Christmas – it just wasn’t him. Whenever I tried to ask, he’d keep me at arm’s length. I didn’t want to crowd him but I couldn’t understand why he had changed.’

Despite care from the HIV clinic, which Jay describes as ‘wonderful’, his mental state deteriorated as he thought about how the diagnosis would affect his life. ‘My only reference was from a school drama lesson when we watched a film version of the 1990s musical Rent, which showed life in New York under the shadow of Aids. Some of the characters had a very grisly end – which was the reality at that time. The whole thing was ingrained with death and darkness.’

Jay did not feel comfortable telling anyone about his feelings. ‘There was too much stigma, too much misunderstanding. I was frightened I’d lose someone or they’d react badly, so I thought I’d just deal with this by myself.’ As for the man he’d met in Manchester, Jay tried to get in touch with him but says, ‘He ignored me. I’ll never know whether he did this intentionally.’

Jay couldn’t see any way forward after being diagnosed in March 2020. This was four-and-a half months ago. ‘I couldn’t focus on my future any more. I’d got to the point where this was all too difficult to deal with on my own, but I was too afraid to tell anyone so I fooled myself into thinking taking my own life was the answer.’ On the night he intended to kill himself, he rang his mum – not wanting her to find out about his HIV status after his death. He describes the intended conversation as a ‘courtesy call’, wanting to explain why he’d been so cold and distant but in no way looking for her to change his mind. ‘I remember saying that the reason I hadn’t been home was that I’d been living with HIV – and that was why I’d been in hospital. I’d tried to keep it secret and deal with it alone but I couldn’t. The experience was very much like me coming out of my shell to her so many years ago. I was sitting on the floor again, in tears – only this time we were on the phone so she couldn’t give me a hug.’

Jay’s next reaction was the one that undoubtedly saved him. ‘Mum’s initial reaction was radio silence for a solid minute then all I could hear was her quietly crying.’ To his intense surprise, Jay heard himself comforting Tanya with the words: ‘I’m not going to die. I’m not going to be unhealthy. I’m going to be fine.’

His mother needed the words he spoke. ‘Amid all that reassuring, I found I was reassuring myself. I realised I was going to be healthy and happy – everything was going to be fine. We were able to understand each other after the call ended. Mum was attentive and asked many questions. I wasn’t keeping anything from her any more.’

It was terrifying for Tanya. ‘My world fell apart. My experience of HIV – which, untreated, can develop into Aids – was from the 80s. It was this big, awful thing that we were all frightened of, that people died from.’

Today, however, Tanya understands just how far treatment of her son’s illness has come. With medication, Jay’s doctors have reduced his virus levels enough for his illness to be clinically undetectable. Jay is now immune to the virus and can only take two tablets per day.

 I felt like the only person on the planet. Now I’m part of a bigger story

Jay, meanwhile, has devoted himself to dispelling myths that persist about HIV/Aids and to showing what the modern face of the disease looks like: something you live with, not something you die from. To this end he appears in the forthcoming Sky documentary series Positive. ‘Naturally, this is really important and a milestone for me personally, but from a wider perspective it’s important for every single person that has HIV today because representation matters. I’m just thrilled that I can show my journey.’

You can also find Jay on Instagram and TikTok talking about how his experience affected him, and reassuring people with a positive diagnosis that there is a rich life still to be lived. ‘When I was first diagnosed,It felt as if I was the only one on this planet. Now I realise I’m part of a much bigger story – I’m chapter 50 or 60!’

Tanya is, not surprisingly, his biggest fan. ‘When I see his videos, I’m just so proud of him. Knowing the journey he has been on – from avoiding me, hiding away and not wanting to tell anyone about being HIV positive to being out there, educating the public and helping others come to terms with their own diagnosis – is also his way of coping and keeping himself strong.’

Mother and son both say their shared experiences have strengthened their bonds. ‘We text and talk all the time,’ says Tanya. ‘He’ll send silly TikToks to make me laugh. I went to stay with him for my birthday and he’ll be coming home for Christmas.’

For Jay, the opportunity to be open again with Tanya has allowed him to revert to being ‘a proper mummy’s boy. I can always be myself with Mum and know that I’m accepted. You can’t ask for more than that.’

World Aids Day on Wednesday 1 December marks four decades since the UK’s first recorded case of HIV. Sky Documentaries and Now, at 9 p.m. on Wednesday 1 December will show Positive. You can find more information about HIV/Aids at tht.org.uk

 From heartbreak to breakthroughs: 40 years of HIV/Aids

Both Rock Hudson, actor and Freddie Mercury died from Aids. 

 1981Clinically, Aids was first reported in the USA in June and in the UK in December.

1982 Terrence Higgins was the first person in Britain to succumb to an Aids-related disease. Terrence Higgins Trust was later established in support of those suffering from the illness.

1985The UK Department of Health issues the first medical advice about Aids to doctors after 51 cases have been reported. Rock Hudson (right), an actor, dies from Aids. A test for HIV is created. Start screening blood donation centres for HIV.

1987 UK government launches the ‘Don’t Die of Ignorance’ campaign, delivering a leaflet to every household. In the US, antiretroviral drugs are approved for use. The first antiretroviral drug is approved in the United States. Princess Diana meets an HIV-positive person at London’s specialist ward for HIV/Aids.

1991Freddie Mercury (right), has died from Aids related complications.

1995The UK has 10,000 aids cases, while more than 250,000 people are living with HIV.

1996HAART is a standard HIV treatment. It consists of antiretroviral medicines. It has been highly successful, meaning the progression from HIV to Aids is increasingly rare – and has drastically reduced the death rate.

1999According to the World Health Report, Aids ranks as the 4th most deadly killer in the world two decades ago.

2003This was the first case in England of reckless HIV transmission.

2010 The Equality Act means HIV is now considered a disability – so people living with it are protected from discrimination.

2017 Public Health England starts to trial pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) drugs for people who do not have HIV but are at risk of getting it – as part of a prevention strategy.

2020 It’s announced that PrEP is to be available free on the NHS. This is to eliminate HIV infection within 10 years.

 Hair and make-up: Claire Dickinson at Face Management.