| Published in The Independent on 05.04.2020 | A Touch of Frost |

As we all spend our second week isolating together, we have been reminiscing a lot.

It all started when a lady who works for us said because the hairdressers were closed due to the Coronavirus, she was having to bleach her roots herself for the first time in nearly 30 years. I replied that I remember having my hair bleached when I was 10 years old. To that she responded, thinking I had misheard her, that she was talking about lightening her hair. I again replied, yes I remember the first time I had mine bleached.

Illustration for Touch of Frost, 05.04.2020

Run Wild, Run Free poster

Illustration for Touch of Frost, 05.04.2020

Run Wild, Run Free snapshot

To cut a long story short, when I was a child, Colombia were filming on Dartmoor on my family’s friend’s farm. The film was to be called ‘Run Wild, Run Free’. It featured John Mills, Sylvia Syms and Mark Lester. Mark played a young boy who spots a white horse on the moors and sets out to tame him. The Director needed a body double for him for the riding scenes as Mark couldn’t ride and my name had been put forward.

At the age of ten, I was the right height and build to double for Mark, and of course I could ride, but I was dark haired. The Director told the lady whose farm they were filming on that he was sure no parent would allow their son’s hair to be bleached. She evidently replied that she was pretty confident my parents would if the money was right, and in no time at all, I was sitting in a hair salon with a peroxide mix on my hair, slowly watching it turn pale blonde.

My interview for the role was over in minutes. I was asked to gallop bare back and jump over a few small fences. With my new blonde look, my mirroring frame and what seemed like an easy task to undertake, I was given the job on the spot.

Over those summer months Lester and I played together. We were meant to have a chaperone but we kept giving her the slip and instead got into no end of mischief. If he wasn’t acting or I being his double, I would teach him how to ride. I guess he was my first customer. I found out through a friend that knew him that he eventually became an osteopath in Cheltenham

It’s funny how opportunities come along. I do believe everything happens for a reason. When I was thirteen, my uncle Stewart rode point to point races. I used to be in awe of him and it was him that initially inspired me to be a jockey. My dad was a furrower and my mother ran a small riding school. They worked very hard for very little. It was a shock therefore when mum and dad using what must have been all their savings, bought a point to point horse. It cost them a hefty £60. He was called Doctor Fred. A local vet – Mr Aubrey Fuller, would always choose to ride him at the riding school and eventually he asked to buy the horse but keep him at livery.

One day I returned home from school and my uncle Steward was there. He told me to go into the kitchen and stand on the scales. He said that as I was only 8st.7 that if I was going to ride in point to point that we would have to make up another 4 stone in lead. I remember my excitement so well. The new owner of Dr Fred – Aubrey Fuller, was offering me the chance to take his horse and race point to point in a 3 mile steeple chase in Lamalla in Cornwall. This was a turning point in my life. This man believed in me and believed I could compete equally against people considerably older than me who had been racing for years.

I won and became the youngest person ever to win a point to point race at 13 years old. Aubrey Fuller started my career an there was no turning back.

A couple of years ago I attended Aubrey’s memorial service. It wasn’t until that day that I realised what he had done for me. I owe him so much.

From there on my lovely parents would work hard all week and spend the weekends driving me to gymkhanas. Without knowing it I was honing my skills that would eventually lead me to winning the Grand National.

On the note of the Grand National, it would have been held this weekend.

To bring a smile to the family’s faces and our lovely team of three ladies Philippa, Anita and Jess that look after the horses here, we have decided to create our own Grand National on the land and hold it as part of our daily exercising routine. Bryony will be the starter, I am the judge and Nikki, Hadden, Dan and the ladies will be racing. The jumps – Becher’s Brook, The Chair, Canal Turn and Valentines Brook, will be made out of existing hedges and holly bushes. We will of course be riding considerable metres apart and the winner will be able to stand near (but not touch – definitely not touch) the Grand National cup I was awarded in 1989. It’s all a bit of fun and our way of thanking the staff for their commitment during these unprecedented times.

Remember to clap for the NHS on Thursday at 8pm.

Until next week, keep safe and look after each other.

Jimmy