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"She stood at the heart of the storm." The incredible true story behind Stan's It's A Sin.

The hardest part of watching It's A Sin is knowing it's real.

There are no story beats that allow respite from this dark section of history, or moments of wild imagination you can sink into. Feeling safe in the knowledge that what's unfolding on screen will never touch the edges of your life.

Instead, this new Stan drama shines an uncomfortable but necessary light on a time in history that has somehow been pushed into the shadows.

Yet, somehow, a series chronicling Britain's HIV and AIDS epidemic, the thousands of people who lost their lives to it, and the world that turned away from them, manages to also burst with hope and love. Along with the expected sorrow.

And that's all down to the true stories and people It's A Sin creator and writer Russell T Davies has woven throughout his show.

Beginning in the early 1980s, It’s A Sin centres on a group of young adults who are swept up in their new lives in London, relishing their first tastes of adulthood, career, love and sex.

Take a look at the trailer for It's A Sin, only on Stan. Post continues below. 

There's Ritchie (Olly Alexander) who has slipped away from a homophobic home in the Isle of Wight to attend drama school and become a star.

Roscoe (Omari Douglas) who flees his deeply religious household in flamboyant fashion, after learning his parents are planning to ship him away to their native Nigeria due to his sexuality. 

And Colin (Callum Scott Howells) a sweet, quiet young man from the Welsh valleys. He has arrived in London to start an apprenticeship as a tailor and is soon absorbed into this new family of young gay men which also includes dreamy drama student Ash (Nathaniel Curtis).

Rounding out it It's A Sin's team of central characters is Jill Baxter, portrayed by actress Lydia West, a fellow drama student who lives with the boys in a rambling London apartment they dub The Pink Palace. 

A young woman who acts as both an unshakeable ally and a friend to the boys as the AIDS epidemic consumes the lives of these young characters.

Lydia West as Jill Baxter in It's A Sin. Image: Stan. 

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There's a lot of darkness wrapped up in the story of It's A Sin, but also a small slice of comforting light with the knowledge that Jill is a real person. A woman who walked the same path as the character we see on screen and who is a close friend of It's A Sin creator Russell T Davies.

As a young gay man living in London in the 1980s, Russell was on the front line of the HIV/AIDS crisis and even though his screenwriting and TV career has spanned decades, it was a time in his life he has been too traumatised to explore in-depth on-screen.

Until now.

In an essay for The Guardian, Russell wrote that to this day, 40 years later, there are names of loved ones he cannot say out loud. 

The first man he ever had sex with, the first man he fell in love with, and the friends he experienced wild adventures alongside. 

All these young men died of AIDS and yet their families still maintain that they died from cancer. Or pneumonia. 

Anything to avoid the shame that clung to the disease at the time, an idea that is now explored so meticulously in It's A Sin.

One name he is not afraid to say, however, is Jill Nalder. A woman he befriended at the age of 14 and who helped shape the circle of friends at the heart of It's A Sin. 

"As we grew up, I went to university, got a job, started to write, but Jill lived a bigger, better life," Russell wrote in his essay for The Guardian. "She went to London. Became an actor. She moved into a flat which she called The Pink Palace, and it felt like an endless party, the rooms filled with gay men and drag queens and show tunes. 

"Jill met the crisis head on. She stood at the heart of the storm. She went to the hospitals and the funerals and the marches. She held the hands of so many men. She lost them, and remembered them, and somehow kept going."

For actress Lydia West one of the most extraordinary parts of playing Jill Baxter in It's A Sin was discovering that the character was based on a real person. And that she was going to act alongside her on screen.

The brilliant dynamic between the characters of It's A Sin anchor the show. Image: Stan.

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In It's A Sin the real Jill Nalder plays Jill Baxter's mother, and along with Russell's poignant script, adds a touch of emotional understanding to the history of the show. 

"Jill is so interesting, kind and sweet and she really lived through that time," Lydia told Mamamia. "She also really lived in The Pink Palace with her great group of friends. It was really interesting to have someone in the room who had lived through this experience and who could reel off a bunch of personal anecdotes to remind us all this really happened.

"She gave insight on the friendships they had, the parties they went to and what The Pink Palace was really like. Just what all that love and loss was like. She’s a real inspiration, and it was so special having her there.

"When I first read the script, I knew this story hadn't been told in this way before," Lydia continues, speaking about the importance of It's A Sin's story. "I loved how the friendships just sprung off the page for me.

"The show feels like a huge public service and I feel honoured to have been able to do it. It’s both the role of a lifetime and a story of a lifetime. It’s so important to keep telling these stories and personally, I feel very educated now about that time."

 Lydia West as Jill Baxter with Jill Nalder on the set of It’s A Sin. Image: Lydia West Instagram. 

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Like many people her age, the 27-year-old actress had a vague understanding of the history surrounding the AIDS crisis, but as she dove into research for the role she was stunned to discover what had really taken place.

"It’s important to tell these stories and to remember that people went through this and we’re still going through it, really," Lydia told Mamamia.

"For Jill, she really learns through the years about the disease. So I didn’t want to be too well informed because I wanted to play Jill at 18 and Jill at 26, knowing where she is at all times. They are very different Jills.

"I found with my research that there’s a website called HIV.gov and it has a really interesting timeline of everything that happened year by year. It helped me refresh where I was in each episode.

"It's not a technical drama, and it’s not a medical drama but I just wanted to know things like... in 1984 there was a New York Times article that said HIV could be transmitted through saliva. 

"That really helped me in the scene where Jill is watching Gregory/Gloria (David Carlyle) drink from a mug in their house. You know what’s going through Jill’s mind. 

"She’s read this article, perhaps knows it’s contagious and now she’s seeing his saliva on the mug. There are all these beats in the script that I needed these points of reference for."

As much as the character of Jill Baxter is based on a real person, she also represents all the friends who stood by their loved ones during the HIV/AIDS crisis. 

The voices who spoke up for all the young men who died alone in hospital rooms or were hidden away in childhood bedrooms, knowing that their families were ashamed of them.

There's a scene in It's A Sin, towards the end of the five-episode run, where Jill confronts a family member of one of her dying friends, calmly calling her out for spreading shame around the disease.

"Russell noted in the stage directions for that scene that Jill is very calm, she’s been waiting for this moment for a long time," Lydia told Mamamia. "She’s been through so much and by now it's not about anger anymore. 

"She’s simply saying there is such shame upon these men. Jill needed to build up the courage to get to that point and I’m just glad she finally manages to say that speech."

It's A Sin may focus on a dark time in history, but it's also a sincere love letter to the people who watched it unfold.

All episodes of It's A Sin are streaming now, only on Stan.