Princess Diana shaking hand of man dying from AIDS was ‘momentous’ for gay community

A friend of the first person in the UK to die of AIDS has called the moment Princess Diana hugged a HIV-infected patient as ‘momentous’.

John Eaddie was named as the UK’s first AIDS victim following a recent investigation by ITV’s Tonight. His friend Ken Dee appeared on Good Morning Britain in November to talk about his late friend’s life and death, and the stigma faced by gay men as the virus spread across the UK in the 80s. 

When asked by host Susanna Reid how Princess Diana’s decision to be photographed shaking hands and hugging AIDS patients changed things, he said: “I think that was a momentous moment when that happened because I think a lot of people then realised that it couldn’t be transmitted just through touching. 

“I think for the gay community it went so much further than anything else had possibly done when that happened. I remember seeing it at the time and crying, thinking this is amazing.”

The Princess of Wales was famously the first member of the Royal Family to touch someone with AIDS. A lifelong advocate, she attended the opening of the UK’s first HIV/AIDS unit at London Middlesex Hospital in 1987 and was a patron of the National AIDS Trust at the time of her death in 1997.

Speaking about his friend’s death in 1981, Mr Dee continued: “We heard that he was sick… he was breathless… but we presumed it was a cold. It all happened quite quickly.”

Tonight discovered Mr Eaddie was the first person to die of AIDS in the UK as part of an investigation for its documentary entitled Searching for Patient Zero: Britain’s AIDS Tragedy which aired in November.

Prior to its investigation, which cited unearthed medical records and accounts from his family and friends, the only trace of Mr Eaddie’s death in AIDS history was a brief mention in the Lancet Medical Journal where he was referred to as a “known homosexual”.

A man named Terrence Higgins was the first AIDS patient to be publicly identified in the UK after his death the following year in 1982.