It’s a Sin and the iconic ‘La’ has already raised tens of thousands for HIV charities

Philip Normal wearing a rainbow jumper standing outside the Royal Vauxhall Tavern

Philip Normal talks to Liam Beattie about the epic response to his charity t-shirt inspired by It’s a Sin and the £20,000 raised in 24 hours.

Philip Normal is well known for his eye-catching t-shirts, LGBT+ positive messages and his collaborations to support the causes important to him.

Following the Manchester Arena bombing in 2017, his tribute shirt in collaboration with illustrator Holly Shortall, in honour of his friend Martyn Hett, raised £6,000 for his family’s chosen charity.

In just one day, he smashed his previous record and raised more than £20,000 for Terrence Higgins Trust. Inspired by Russell T Davies’ It’s a Sin, his ‘La’ t-shirt donates £20 of the £25 retail price to the country’s leading HIV and sexual charity.

Terrence Higgins Trust replica posters from the 1980s are seen pinned to the walls when the characters test for HIV.

Philip, who is currently mayor of the London Borough of Lambeth and the first to hold such office to be open about their HIV status, has chosen Terrence Higgins Trust as one of the charities he supports in his mayoral year.

“‘La’ really resonated with me, the wonderful use of the English language,” he said.

“For me, this simple use of language underpins the vulnerability of all the characters and solidifies their friendship, it’s incredibly powerful.

“Everyone has their cliques and friends, we all look after each other. [‘La’] encapsulated that love and mutual support.”

Having received a number of requests for a ‘La’ t-shirt, Philip said he knew exactly which charity he wanted to support and how it would appear.

“I could see it in my head: Typewriter font and in italics. Simple. I wanted to let the language do all the work.”

Overwhelmed by the response and the support from actors in the show – including Callum Scott Howell (who plays Colin) and Keeley Hawes (who plays Valerie, Ritchie’s mum) and the creators Red Production Company – plus the likes of Michelle Visage and Russell Tovey – Philip said he felt “very emotional”.

On the first day, more than 850 had been sold.

Waking up this morning, less than 24 hours since the launch, Philip delights in “100 new sales before 9am – this is amazing. I just hope people know it is just me in my studio making these – I am going to be one busy mayor.”

The t-shirt has really captured the mood. Reflecting on his own experience of watching Davies’ “amazing” creation, he said: “It’s unique in capturing a moment in history that has just not been told before.

“I was in bits. The next day, I found myself thinking about it on the walk to work. I cried. I feel so lucky to have not experienced the epidemic in the 1980s, but know plenty who did.

“The attention to detail was remarkable – the appearance of the then Lesbian and Gay Switchboard made me proud. Their work today is still so important to LGBT+ people.

“We stand on the shoulders of giants – this is the reminder we needed.

“It was great that the likes of Lisa Power [co-founder of Stonewall, long-standing Terrence Higgins Trust policy director and current chair of Fast Track Cities Cardiff and the Vale – an initiative to get zero HIV transmissions in south Wales] were brought in to advice on issues of the time.”

“The stories in It’s a Sin should be in the national curriculum,” Philip argues.

“There was no sex education when I was at school, and Section 28 had a pernicious effect. Twenty years after its repeal it still has an impact.

“Finally, after a campaign by Terrence Higgins Trust and others, the government is finally rolling out LGBT-inclusive compulsory sex and relationship education this summer.”

How HIV will feature is to be determined school-by-school. “Young people should know the history, but also the modern reality of HIV in the UK’,” says the Labour politician.

He continued: “Parents watching It’s a Sin should want this to not happen to their kids. Therefore, they should want their kids to have the best sex education available.”

From watching It’s a Sin and learning about HIV, what would Philip want people to take from the experience? “The huge development in medical science since the 1980s.

“Modern treatment means many living with HIV have so little HIV in their system they cannot pass on the virus. This is known as being undetectable.

“I take two pills a day and am myself undetectable. Undetectable means untransmittable, meaning you can’t pass the virus on to someone else and this is a scientific fact – something I have to explain to people time and time again,”

Philip’s own status and signature “hun” came together in the first collaboration with Terrence Higgins Trust for World AIDS Day 2020. His ‘Hundetectable’ t-shirt also donates all proceeds to the HIV charity, their support of for people living with HIV and campaigns for change.

“Terrence Higgins Trust was integral to the HIV Commission that released its final report, just two months ago.

“Ending new cases is something we can achieve – we now have the tools: home testing PrEP and the knowledge to kill stigma.”

The National AIDS Trust and the Elton John AIDS Foundation were also integral to this process and the commission’s success. The latter runs a Social Impact Bond in Philip’s home patch, an initiative he is proud to support.

Lambeth and surrounding boroughs are the “epicentre of the UK pandemic” Philip says. “It is a place LGBT+ people have chosen to live and many Black African communities have made their home.”

He adds: “Big progress has been made locally but this is a national issue and requires a national message.” Off the back of the HIV Commission, the government has agreed on tough new targets to get the numbers of new diagnoses down by 80 per cent.

“Philip says: “They need to get on with it. HIV affects everyone. Outreach is crucial – we need a renewed and inclusive campaign to get the whole country to know their status.”

With National HIV Testing Week round the corner, and It’s a Sin being broadcast for the next month, “Now could not be a better time to get a test.”

As Philip goes back to his studio to make the hundreds of t-shirts being purchased to honour It’s a Sin and those lost too young throughout the epidemic, we are reminded of the spirit of the HIV positive activists who made many of the developments across four decades happen.

Their activism, their fundraising. Their creation of the Terrence Higgins Trust and much more besides.

Order a free HIV test kit to do at home for National HIV Testing Week via the It Starts With Me website.