THE BLOG

Why I'm 'Running' for Sport Relief

17/03/2016 17:22 GMT | Updated 18/03/2017 09:12 GMT
Sport Relief

In so many ways, Monday was just like any other day for me. I met new people, talked about music and performed. But it was also different, because the people I met are affected by HIV.

There are now around 110,000 people living with HIV in the UK, many of which are young people. They can have a long and healthy life thanks to modern medication, but there's still a huge stigma around the virus.

Young people are the future of everything. It doesn't matter if they are living with HIV or not. And if they are living with HIV, it doesn't mean that they don't deserve a chance, deserve to have a full, diverse life. They are just as passionate and talented as the next person.

Through my friends I have met people who have HIV. My own perception was lacking so I read up about it.

Like lots of other people in their 20s, I grew up not knowing anything except the scary old TV ads filled with death as well as myths and fears. Unfortunately some kids are still growing up thinking they can catch it off a cup.

That's why places like Body and Soul, which I visited on Monday, are so important. Cash raised through Sport Relief enables the project to help young people with HIV.

It's an incredible and warm place full of wonderful people, living positively with HIV but with huge smiles on their faces. There's a lot of love, positivity and support.

Which is exactly what these young people need. Their identity may have been challenged and defined by having HIV. They might not have a family support network, often through tragedy.

It was hard to find out about their lives from their very first hand experiences. But the most important thing is that people talk about this.

The people I met at Body and Soul, all a similar age or a few years younger than me, told me about unnecessary, ridiculous stigmas that are attached to them. They have lived with stigma throughout their whole lives. They shouldn't have to be treated differently.

For obvious reasons, they all wanted to be anonymous. A 20-year-old was in the last year of primary school when she found out that she was had HIV, didn't go on school trips and thought she would probably die in a couple of years.

A 21-year-old I met was diagnosed as a teenager and told me that it's been a "very long journey".

"From finding out you go through so many emotions and it takes you a while to get comfortable with the idea of it. Then to go to a place to sit down and talk about it seemed really scary. But at Body and Soul you end up talking about it in really crazy ways, like with Project Jam, a music session."

Visiting Body and Soul just reinforced that music is this wonderful, universal, magic thing. It's powerful and gives people hope.

A 27-year-old whose mum has HIV performed a spoken word piece which really affected me.

She spoke about the shame and fear of opinion. How people lock themselves away fearing what's outside. But how courage, hope and kindness can help them to realise that self-worth comes from within.

It felt so real. It really brought to life what she's been going through. What she goes through still. It takes courage and talent to perform like that, and she has both of those things, as well as modesty. She is very inspiring.

As the room applauded I was speechless and the hairs on my arms were standing on end. It was incredible.

She told me that stigma kills more people than HIV itself. It was a powerful statement. She was 12 when she found out her mum had HIV when she looked up her medication on the internet.

She told me: "I was angry at HIV and angry at her as if it was her fault. I was also ignorant. Coming to Body and Soul opened my eyes to how it really affects you. HIV does not define a human being."

What will stick with me is the real sense of hope and life from the people that go to the project. It's inspiring to see first-hand and to experience. It feels like I have connected with people and I understand a lot more about what they go through, and where society is at with HIV, and where it needs to get to.

HIV shouldn't have the stigma that it has. People can live with it and be incredible. It's definitely opened my eyes that much wider and opened my mind that much further. I do mean it when I say that I left the centre with a more open heart, and I will live my life with a more open heart.

Visiting Body and Soul has made me proud that I'm involved with Sport Relief. I'm incredibly grateful that I can help.

You can help too by buying my Sport Relief single, Running, out now or by signing up to the Sainsbury's Sport Relief Games. It's a win-win - it's a lot of fun for a great cause. And you might do something you've never done before, that you find out you adore.

James Bay has released the official Sport Relief single, Running, which was recorded live from Abbey Road Studios. Download it here