His brief was to help break down the stigma around HIV, and Prince Harry proved that he has inherited his mother’s remarkable powers of persuasion yesterday when he met a group of people living with HIV.
Before the Prince arrived at the event in London for NAZ, only five HIV positive members of the charity’s Joyful Noise Choir had agreed to be photographed with him. But after a rallying call from the Prince about the need to go public, all but a handful of the 25-strong group were happily posing for pictures with him.
It evoked memories of Diana, Princess of Wales educating the world about HIV 25 years ago when she made a point of shaking hands with patients to show there was nothing “dangerous” about it.
The Prince, 32, arrived for the event at the Hurlingham Club in west London casually dressed in a blue checked shirt and wearing the much talked about beaded bracelet that is the near twin of one worn by his girlfriend Meghan Markle.
As he listened to the choir rehearsing a medley of Reggae hits, including songs by one of his favourite singers, Bob Marley, the Prince sang along, danced in his seat and grinned with delight.
He went on stage afterwards to chat to the singers and the media were briefed that only five choir members had agreed to be photographed. Others were still too fearful of the stigma around their diagnosis, or had not yet told all those close to them about having HIV.
The Prince, speaking off the cuff, told them: “I don’t want to be here in 10 years talking to you guys and saying we’re making a difference. There’s no reason why we can’t turn this around in two or three years.
“Not talking about something can actually kill you. People are happy to talk about their youngest child having cancer, that might even kill them, but the other child who has HIV, they don’t talk about that.
“Thirty years ago it was pretty much a death sentence but so many people have put blood, sweat and tears into essentially fixing the problem. For some reason though there is a large group of people who don’t know that things have come so far.
“We have got to do this and people have got to hear it from you, they don’t want to hear it from me.”
Within a matter of minutes the Prince’s words had clearly given more than a dozen choir members the extra courage they needed to stop hiding their diagnosis.
As he posed for a photograph with members of the choir, all but a few happily joined in, knowing the pictures were going to be released for publication.
Marion Wadibia, the charity’s chief executive, said: “The weight of his presence really resonated and if he can move that many people in four minutes we can really make a difference in the next two or three years.
“This is one of the few conditions that has gone from a terminal illness to a chronic illness in the last 30 years, but the stigma hasn’t really moved.
“People were telling the Prince that they couldn’t really disclose to their own families because their families have set ideas about HIV.”
Members of the choir told Prince Harry that the HIV test he took earlier this year was “one of the greatest things you ever did”. He replied: “It was one of the easiest things I ever did.”
The Prince was meeting members of the choir a few hours before the charity’s annual awards evening, where the choir was to be the star turn.
Naz, which was founded in 1991, concentrates on providing sexual health services to black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, where views about HIV are sometimes entrenched and which make up a disproportionately high percentage of the 103,000 people living with HIV in the UK.
It is named after a Pakistani Muslim man called Nazir who was secretly gay and was shunned by his mosque and his community when they discovered he had Aids. The gay rights activist Shivananda Khan established the charity in his memory following his death.
Sarah Bisholo, 58, one of the choir members who spoke to Prince Harry, said: “HIV is not dangerous. What kills you is isolation and self-stigmatisation.
“When I was diagnosed in 2001 I wanted to die. I was envious of people who died on 9/11, the day after my diagnosis. Naz is the reason I’m standing here.
“They took me from planning to kill myself to giving me therapy and telling me I could do it, that thousands of people had come before me and I was not the first.”
The VIP guests at the event also included Princess Tessy of Luxembourg, UNAIDS global advocate for young women, and her husband Prince Louis.