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We Were Always Here: Untold stories of Britain’s HIV epidemic


We Were Always Here: Untold stories of Britain’s HIV epidemic

Every year, the British Podcast Awards bring new podcasts to my radar, but I’m also pleased when podcasts I’ve covered get the recognition they deserve. This year, one such podcast is We Were Always Here, which I featured as a new podcast back in December last year. The award-nominated series brings together the unheard voices and the untold stories of those who were most affected by the HIV epidemic in the UK, but are often missing from the mainstream narratives.

The nomination seemed like a good excuse to catch up with host Marc Thompson and Producer Hana Walker Brown to learn more about how the show was made…

Pod Bible: Congratulations on the recent British Podcast Awards nomination! How does it feel to see this show nominated?

Marc: It feels fantastic and such an honour to be nominated for this award and to be on such an incredible list. I’m really proud that my passion project has been recognised alongside so many great podcasts that I listen to myself.

Hana: Its always nice to be recognised for the work you’ve done, especially with such a small team. We’re up against big budget and even bigger team productions. “We Were Always Here” was made by Marc and I with the support of our production assistant Rory Boyle so it really shows what is possible – and no women were murdered for this storyline!

I believe We Were Always Here was the first series of Broccoli’s ‘Documentary’ stream. I’ve been wondering which came first: the idea for a stream of short-run series, or the idea for WWAH?

Hana: Both kind of happened simultaneously, my background is documentary so it was really important to me that we had a dedicated space for docs that could be include any number of subjects, producers, series – just a space to be adventurous or introduce new voices bound only by the broccoli ethos of telling stories that empower. I got an email from Marc through our mutual friend who had connected us for a series of Anthems. He wanted to make a show about the UK HIV Epidemic and was asking for me for advice on where to pitch it. As soon as I read it, I knew I had to make it and felt there was no other company that could his story justice in the way he wanted to tell it so I said don’t pitch it, we’ll take it and that was that!

What was the collaboration like between Marc as Host and Hana as Producer? Did you silo your roles or was there collaboration on all aspects?

Hana: It was a really collaborative project– obviously there are things that we both brought to the table – Marc’s rich history and connections to the community and my storytelling and sound design skills and sensibility – together we were responsible for creating a space not just for Marc’s story but the stories of all the people that feature as well as the community as a whole that could bring to the fore those unheard voices to the fore and ensure their history was documented. We trusted each other implicitly which I think is important and actually, we both cared about these people and these stories which definitely helps.

Hana told me on Twitter that “I interviewed @marct_01 for hours and built the narrative from his ridiculously eloquent answers.” Do you know how many hours of conversation between the two of you was recorded?

Marc: I think Hana and I probably recorded around 6-8 hours maybe between just us!

Hana: We have a responsibility as doc makers to tell the “truth” of any situation and to me that starts with the words of the narrator which have to feel authentic and I think the only way you can do that is through interviewing. Yes, it’s a bit of a heavier lift than just feeding someone words on a script but it allows a much deeper intimacy and connection to the person’s story so I wouldn’t do it any other way. Also, Marc is a phenomenal storyteller so it made my job a lot easier!

Marc: And also outside of our interviews we recorded 80 hours of interviews with individuals who made up the bulk of the narrative of the podcast it was really refreshing to get to sit in the interview seat as well and ask the questions I was really interested in and to learn so much about friends and colleagues and allies.

There are a couple more big budget podcasts about or incorporating HIV that have come out this month – A Positive Life and Love In Gravity – I wonder if you’ve had a chance to listen yet?

Marc: I haven’t had a chance to listen to any of the new podcasts yet. I wish them really well. I welcome them as it’s great that we’re finally hearing all of these narratives about the HIV epidemic. It adds to the wider canon of British history and LGBTQ+ history so I think it’s great that they’re out there.

Follow-on question – why do you think this topic is being picked up more at the moment?

Marc: I think the HIV epidemic story is being picked up right now because its 40 years since the first cases were identified and it’s really important this anniversary is marked in various ways. We don’t have a memorial to those we lost in the UK, so this is a great opportunity to remember that history and the people we lost, and to also to remind ourselves that HIV hasn’t gone away, that we still have work to do to end new HIV transmissions and support the lives of people who continue to live with HIV in the UK and globally.

Hana: I agree- and while this year has put HIV back into the mainstream consciousness due to the anniversary and the popularity of shows like “It’s a Sin” it really needs to continue. As Marc said we recorded over 80 hours of interviews for this which we are handing over to Bishops Gate queer archive this autumn – all audio and transcripts and episodes – so that they live on beyond the podcast as a resource. A lot of the retellings of this history have been through a predominantly white lens so we wanted to ensure that these voices don’t get lost.

Listen to We Were Always Here on Broccoli’s Documentaries Stream on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and other popular podcast apps.

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