His public health campaign at the height of the crisis saved countless lives. As a new generation learns about those dark days from It’s a Sin, the politician considers his legacy
In late 1985, Norman Fowler, who was then the health secretary in Margaret Thatcher’s government, sent a letter to the prime minister. He said that there had been 275 people with Aids in the UK that year. Of these, 144 had died. Without action, he added, a further 20,000 people would be infected with HIV by 1988. The UK was on the precipice of a public health emergency. Fowler encountered a lot of scepticism.
“People at the time said that I was entirely taken over by the subject, and that I overexaggerated,” says Lord Fowler, now 83 and speaking via Zoom from his home in Fulham, south-west London. He looks composed, and every bit the lord in recess, wearing a pastel pink shirt underneath a green jumper. Behind him sits a glass cabinet stuffed with weighty texts and political memoirs.