'Well paid, looked after' British jockey James Reveley on life in France

Mr Reveley tells The Connexion about how the sport differs in France and elsewhere, the tribulations of French paperwork... and if he would plump for horsemeat at the dinner table

A view of James Reveley riding a horse during a race at Auteuil, Paris, 2016
James Reveley has spent many years racing in France, and plans to retire in the country.
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F or one week in April, British jockey James Reveley was a sensation in the French press. 

This was because of a provocative, witty answer he gave to Equipia, the horse racing TV channel, following his victory at the Prix du Président de la République race on April 21.

“I won your race [Mr President] but still have not acquired my titre de séjour while working here for eight years and paying €50,000 a year in taxes,” he said, as he gave the interview from his horse during a victory circuit of the course. 

His struggles over his pending titre de séjour case vanished when he was assigned an appointment with his prefecture merely three days after winning the race. 

Read more: UK jockey gets French residency card meeting after public complaint

The holy grail of a residency card still eluded him on May 19 when he competed at the Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris, but it is revealing about how the French administration sometimes works when it is put in the media spotlight. 

A former three-time winner of the prestigious Paris steeplechase, a fourth victory eluded him this time, but he was still upbeat about his administrative situation.

“I would have expected something might come out of it from the attention it generated, but to get a call from the préfecture so quickly, no,” the former competitor at the Grand National said.

Mr Reveley previously told The Connexion that he had not had time to apply for a Brexit Withdrawal Agreement card before Brexit, though he had tried to apply for residency several times since. 

In the course of our conversation, we found out about his career and views on horse racing in France. 

Did you have an official message from the Elysée? 

Nope, nothing at all. I went to the appointment scheduled by the préfecture and checked that my case has its very own dossier. 

I hope my titre de séjour arrives in the coming days.

Do you find it sad that you had to resort to using your victory as a platform to raise awareness about the issue?

Yes, it is ridiculous that it comes down to something like this. I hope the system will improve as a consequence of what happened – I am not sure it will – but I am hoping for other people that it will. 

I didn’t expect anything to come of this but obviously I am quite overwhelmed by the reaction. Hopefully, it will turn out to be a good thing. 

I was surprised about how fast an appointment was scheduled. 

It is true that when I said those things I was hoping to get noticed and for my situation to be acknowledged. Just not so quickly! 

How are you managing to live in France right now? Do you have to travel constantly to the UK? 

No...well I don’t know what the rules are. Officially, I probably would have to. 

I have had nothing blocked from a work perspective or with my children for instance. 

The only things that I had were the refusal on a loan to buy a car, and I have had a few problems with hospital bills with situations not related to horse racing where I had to pay from my own pocket. 

Do you know what type of card you will be offered? 

I am hoping to get a 10-year long titre de séjour, considering how long I have been living in France. 

Read more: French residency permit delays spark protest - how long should it take?

You come from a family with strong ties to horse racing. Your grandmother Mary Reveley was a respected jockey. You were born in England won your first race at 16. Why move to France? 

When I was 18, I chanced upon a fantastic working opportunity to race in Royan in the south of France, which turned out to be a great experience. 

I came back the next summer and spent many more there with my trainer. 

Things were going pretty well, probably better than if I had stayed full-time in the UK, and so I decided to make my life here in France.

You have said that races in France are more tactical than in Great Britain? Can you explain why? 

All sorts of reasons really. Each race course is completely different to, and the obstacles are also entirely different. 

You really need to know the race course here in France, because if you do not you can come unstuck, whereas in England and Ireland a lot of the races and obstacles are rather similar. 

In France it is a lot harder to get familiar with places than it is in the UK or Ireland. 

The second reason is that in the UK, they tend to go a lot faster from the word go. It is like the toughest survives, whereas in France, the style of races is a little bit different and tends to be slower early on. 

The jockey can play a big part in the win in France, by using his position throughout the race or saving ground and energy, whereas in England it is probably nine times out of ten the best horse that wins. 

The jockey has a bigger part to play in France I would say. 

Financially, jockeys are paid well here, looked after, and do not race quite as often, which gives you more family time. 

I would probably have to race non-stop in the UK. It is a really good system over here. 

Do you mean French races fit more to your horse-racing style or did you adapt to them? 

I suppose the French races suit the style I have developed more than the British ones but I had to adapt a little bit obviously. 

You told me that you plan on becoming a trainer here and going back to the UK is out of the question. What makes you say that? What did you find here? 

I just think it is really hard for trainers to make ends meet in England because you do not have the big names behind you. 

Nowadays, I have a much better understanding of how things work here – the backers for instance – and I have met a lot of people. 

I just think that I have more of an advantage in France than I would have in the United Kingdom. 

I want to go into more detail around your personal life in France. What has been the most challenging aspect about living here? 

I suppose getting used to all the different rules and regulations. 

I am including my own application case in this, but with anything really there seems to be so much paperwork. It is a pain in the backside. 

I hate having to deal with any of that. It really stresses me out. 

How would you define French people? What makes them different to the Brits? 

There are a lot of positive points about the French, otherwise I would not be here, ha ha. 

So you would rather drink French wine, right? 

Yes. Wine is a lot better and cheaper. But more than that, it is the lifestyle as a whole really. 

I like how the French do things socially. They make a big thing about sitting down to eat together. 

On the other hand, the French do not have pub culture… Yeah, that is one thing I genuinely really miss, the pub culture. 

For example, I do enjoy getting a pint at the pub when I go back to the UK. 

The things I miss the most food-wise are the roast dinners, mainly roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, fish and chips, sausage rolls, and the mint sauce. 

You do not seem to eat lamb with mint sauce here in France, which I think is a real shame. 

Obviously, you can eat very well in England, but overall French cuisine has far higher standards. 

You get a decent meal in an average brasserie whereas in England, you would probably need to go to a fancy restaurant. 

Would you eat horse meat? 

Yeah, well I would not…We do not eat it at home, or not that I know of.

Read more: ‘I see no problem’: Readers divided over banning horse meat in France