Hollyoaks’ Ste Hay is to be diagnosed HIV positive after having unprotected sex with a stranger.
The Channel 4 soap is to work with sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust on the storyline – the first time a gay character in a British soap is to be shown living with HIV.
Kieron Richardson, who plays Ste and who came out publicly in 2010, told The Guardian: “My first HIV test was after one of my first gay sexual experiences. I was a bit stupid and had to get fully checked out and one of the tests was HIV and I remember thinking, ‘Oh God, if I’ve got it, I’m going to die.’ Waiting for the results was terrifying. I associated HIV with the 1980s.”
The actor added it is ‘a massive honour’ to portray this story, adding: “And if people think I’m HIV positive in real life, let them.”
Soaps have tackled the issue before – most famously EastEnders’ Mark Fowler, played by Todd Carty in the 80s and more recently Emmerdale’s Val Pollard (Charlie Hardwick) – but both characters were straight.
Hollyoaks executive producer Bryan Kirkwood said: “We have wanted to tell this story for a long time and while HIV can affect anyone, infection rates in young gay men remain too high and to ignore that is to do the gay audience a disservice. Hollyoaks is in a unique positon to be able to talk directly to millions of young viewers and if the safe-sex message is not coming through education we can help with that both on screen and through multi-platform support.
“2015 is Hollyoaks’ 20th year and to make that our ‘year of safe sex’ felt right for a show built upon telling rites of passage stories. With Ste’s HIV and other stories for our teenage characters we will explore the many implications of unprotected sex and hope to encourage thoughtful debate amongst our audience.”