Celebrities commemorated the lives of those lost to the AIDS epidemic at St Paul’s Cathedral yesterday, November 23, where the UK AIDS Memorial Quilt was on display for the first time in 20 years.
The UK AIDS Memorial Quilt is an irreplaceable piece of international social history, telling the stories of people whose lives were lost at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. Hundreds of individuals made quilt panels in memory of loved ones who had died from AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s, inspired by a global project that started in America.
David Furnish and Jay Rayner visited St Paul’s Cathedral to see the UK quilts and hear from the people who made quilt panels in memory of their lost loved ones.
Sir Elton John, supporter of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, said: “The Quilt, both here in the UK and in America, is an extraordinarily poignant reminder of just what the AIDS epidemic has done to individual lives, to families and communities. This disease has killed over 35 million people around the planet.
“I’m so moved by the human spirit that weaves that tragedy into something powerful and beautiful to see and touch, and delighted that the Elton John AIDS Foundation was able to support the collaborating charities and bring this project to public notice for World AIDS Day.”
Dr. Gill Brigg, 57-year-old Drama Teacher made a quilt for their school friend Vaughan Michael Williams speak at St Paul’s, said: “I recall the day Vaughan told me about his diagnosis, we were in his flat in London. He was wearing his favourite hand knitted jumper – he was a great knitter – and the kitchen was a mess. He said he’d just seen his doctor and had been told he had HIV. We sat in silence for what seemed like an eternity. Right, I said, let’s clean the kitchen.
“His decline came fairly swiftly and he spent some time in the London Lighthouse where he received wonderful care.
“On a visit to San Francisco I became aware of the Names Project and had seen photos of the display in Washington. We made Vaughan’s quilt panel at his friend Paul’s flat. A group of us had various artefacts of Vaughan’s that represented his life and personality.
“I haven’t seen the panel since we made it in 1991 – thinking about the panel recently makes me realise just how much time has passed. Vaughan would be very proud.”
Quilt panels will be on display as part of the AIDS Quilt Trail across London taking place on the weekend of December 3 and 4, as part of a series of events marking World AIDS Day.
These exhibitions have been organised by a coalition of charities including George House Trust, Terrence Higgins Trust, Positive East, The Food Chain, Positively UK and Sahir House, with support from Elton John AIDS Foundation. The charities hope the exhibitions will help remember those lost, raise awareness of HIV to younger generations and help find a permanent home for the UK quilt to ensure its preservation.
Jay Rayner, restaurant critic, writer and broadcaster, said: “The Aids epidemic and the appalling number of lives taken by it was all too often portrayed in the media as being about a faceless mass of unknown people.
“In truth, of course, it was an all too large patchwork of individual stories; of real people with names and lives, with loved ones and families and careers and talents never quite allowed to reach fruition. How better to represent that than through the Aids quilt, which gives individuality back to so many people who risked becoming mere statistics?
“It is both work of art and a vital social document, and I wholeheartedly give my support to the coalition of charities and it’s ceaseless work to make sure the quilt finds the home it so richly deserves.”
The Quilts remind us how far the UK has come in the fight against HIV – it no longer stops those living with the virus leading long and healthy lives – but there is still much to be done to tackle stigma, stop transmission and diagnose the 1 in 6 who are unaware they have the virus.
Reverend Canon Philippa Boardman said: “We warmly welcome the display of the UK AIDS Memorial Quilt at the Cathedral. Behind each panel is a profoundly moving story of the courage of each person who died in the early years of HIV/AIDS in this country, and the enduring love of partners, families and friends who continue to remember them. As we honour their memory, may we continue to work and pray for those worldwide living with HIV/AIDS today, for their right to treatment and care, dignity and respect.”
For more information about the UK AIDS Memorial Quilt and full listings for the exhibitions on December 3-4, click here: