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AIDS: Lord Fowler revisits Don’t Die of Ignorance campaign 35 years later

The National HIV Story Trust (NHST) is pleased to announce that an in-depth interview with Lord Norman Fowler, filmed shortly before lockdown, has been added to our archive of over 100 testimonies of the AIDS pandemic of the 1980s/90s.

Lord Fowler, Health Secretary under Thatcher, signed off the famous Don’t Die of Ignorance public health campaign which was pivotal in the fight against HIV. Lord Fowler describes how the adverts came about and how he discussed HIV/AIDS with Thatcher.

He addressed criticisms that the tombstone imagery, central to one of the adverts (an iceberg to the other) was over dramatic. Lord Fowler said about the startling imagery used: “I do not apologise remotely for that.” In order to save lives “You needed the attention of the public, and we got the attention of the public – no question about that.”

Lord Fowler also said of Margaret Thatcher: “she and her party chairman, Norman Tebbit, they were both neurotic about getting too associated with this [HIV/AIDS] and too associated sometimes with the people in it.”

He also said that while Thatcher was empathetic to people with AIDS and had a good appreciation of the science, she had “no great sympathy for the subject… I don’t think AIDS actually appears in her autobiography.”

Paul Coleman, founder of the NHST, said: “We’re very glad to be able to add this interview to our collection. We’ve spoken to all kinds of people whose lives were affected by the AIDS pandemic – men, women, gay, straight, trans, black, white – and heard about the effect of this campaign on them both positive and negative.

“To hear directly from its architect, Lord Fowler, adds a whole new dimension to our archive and ensures that we really are preserving all elements of history from this time. It was also fascinating to hear first hand what Lord Fowler’s thinking was at the time.”

The NHST is marking LGBT+ History Month by sharing clips from the interview and others from its collection on their social media channels.

In addition to joining the NHST’s collection of over 100 testimonies, the interview will also be deposited with the London Metropolitan Archives for their Positive History archive. The NHST also hopes to make a feature length documentary about the pandemic.


Notes to editors

The interview with Lord Fowler was carried out in late 2020 with strict adherence to social distancing rules and in a covid-secure way.

Lord Fowler was Secretary of State for Health and Social Services under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher between 1981 and 1987. He is now Lord Speaker. His Parliamentary profile is available here.

The Don’t Die of Ignorance advert is available from here and a lesser known one here.

About the NHST

The National HIV Story Trust (NHST) was established as a repository of real life stories, to preserve the history of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, remembering the stories of tragedy but also those of love, compassion and humanity. The lessons from the pandemic remain as pertinent today as they did in the 80s/90s. The NHST hopes the 100+ interviews filmed with survivors and victims’ families, partners and medical professionals, will be a voice for those who didn’t survive, a chance to honour those who did, and an education for those who live so freely today because of this generational struggle.

The interview footage has been donated to the London Metropolitan Archive for public and research access and as a record in perpetuity. NHST hopes to tell the stories in a feature film and other arts and educational projects.





Find out more about the National HIV Story Trust here.


Your generous support helps us to secure, preserve and protect the stories of the HIV and AIDS pandemic. In doing so, we can ensure the stories continue to be retold to younger generations, including through the arts and education.

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