Jonathan Rea: I am living my dream

Motor racing legend Jonathan Rea talks to HELEN MCGURK about his family life, his passion for interior design, his new home in Spain and why retirement isn’t even on his radar

By Helen McGurk
Friday, 27th May 2022, 4:26 pm
Updated Tuesday, 31st May 2022, 3:30 pm
Joanthan Rea sprays the victory champagne at Estoril in Portugal
Joanthan Rea sprays the victory champagne at Estoril in Portugal

Just days after his 117th career World Superbike victory at Estoril in Portugal, Jonathan Rea is heading back to his home in Templepatrick where life will significantly shift down a few gears from the hi-octane buzz of the race track to a more sedate family routine of school runs, homework and cooking.

The Superbike supremo’s first job is to pick up his two boys, Jake, 8, and Tyler, 6, from his mum Claire, whom, he says, did the “great favour of looking after them” so he and his Australian wife Tatia, whom he calls ‘Tarsh’ could spend some time together in Portugal.

“It was my wife’s birthday last week, so she was with me. It was nice to have her there because it’s been a while since she’s been at a race without the kids. It was a nice weekend.”

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Jonathan Rea hugging his wife Tatia after his recent wins in Portugal

Six-Time World Superbike champion, author, award-winner, husband, father, Rea has done exceptionally well from a sport that he has given his life to, admitting that ‘never in his wildest dreams’ did he imagine it would turn out so golden.

A grounded and engaging character, he said: “I always dreamt that I wanted to race motorbikes and be a world champion, but when I was young I never really saw how realistic that could be. Geographically we are quite challenged here - in my sport you have to compete in the UK, at least, and further afield, so it did seem like a bit of a pipe dream, but I got there.”

Remembering the long and testing road that led to his current position at the pinnacle of his sport, he added: “The end result is that right now I am living my dream, but it has been really tough. I spent weeks and weeks in hospitals with career-threatening injuries, so it’s nice to have a bit of success for the sacrifice and the hard work and effort that’s been put in all along the journey.”

Motorcycling in his DNA

Jonathan Rea with his wife Tatia and sons Jake and Tyler

Jonathan Rea, 35, grew up in Kilwaughter, outside Larne. One of four children, his family background is steeped in motorcycle road racing. His father, Johnny, competed at the Isle of Man TT and took his sole victory during the 1989 Junior TT race. His grandfather, John, sponsored Joey Dunlop.

Jonathan got the bug from a very early age.

“I loved racing motorbikes from I was in my first race at six years old.”

Whilst he was academically bright, achieving excellent grades in his GCSEs, he admits he “hated school”.

“It wasn’t a pleasant experience being there. My life was just bikes.

“My parents were quite strict so they wanted me to have an education and much to their dismay I never did any A levels.”

His uncle had an engineering factory, so by way of parental appeasement and as a ‘token’ plan B, he did a manufacturing engineering degree at college straight after his GCSEs.

“I am lucky that it worked out for me in bikes because I didn’t have any other ambition, or any other ideas of what I wanted to do.”

He started road racing at 16 and within a couple of seasons realised his then hobby could generate an income.

“I became a professional and got my first salary at 18. From there, year by year, I was improving and becoming more successful.”

With speeds unfathomable to the average driver, danger is inherent in Rea’s sport and he acknowledges he does sometimes get scared.

“At times I do. But when I put my helmet and leather suit on and get on the bike, generally no, but sometimes you see accidents or worse and it makes you think.

“It’s a strange mentality - it’s like you are two different characters. I am myself, but when I put my kit on it’s like I turn into an alter-ego, like a superhero character from a movie... you detach from your normality, your day-to day. your worries. It’s strange, but it’s my happy place. I really enjoy it....it’s all I have ever known.”

Retirement not on his radar

Currently chasing his seventh world title, it seems the ever-lasting allure of pursuing victory, rather than the very final chequered flag of retirement, is what is uppermost in his thoughts

“I haven’t given any serious consideration about retiring. In competitive sport you are always living in the moment, always wrapped up in your own little bubble. When the momentum is going well it’s the last thing you think about.

“Of course, I think I am right at the peak of my career now and I’ll just keep working really hard and see what happens, but I can’t see when that’ll be. I’m already talking about opportunities for 2023. I’m on a contract to the end of this season so that’s exciting, but who knows.”

If, and when, he does retire he reckons it will be “just more of the same”.

“I’ll just be less busy and have more time at home. Of course, I’ll have to do something to keep my brain active and keep good mental health, but I’ve no idea what.”

Second home in Spain

Right now he and his family are looking forward to spending more time in their newly built holiday home near Barcelona, a project which has been “18 months, in the making.”

“It’s been a dream of ours to have a foreign holiday home in Spain. Barcelona, in particular, made sense as my team is based there. We moved in over the Easter holidays and I’ve just come back from a couple of nights there myself checking everything’s all good.

“I really enjoy the area. I like the people and the way of life there. I speak a little bit of Spanish. I understand more than I can speak, but I get by.”

Away from vrooming engines and the smell of petrol, Rea and Tarsh share a passion for interior design

“I like nice homely spaces. My wife is very good at staging houses and rooms, whereas I can’t really understand what I want it to look like, but I know what I don’t like, so we complement each other.

“We built a house in Australia a few years ago, pretty much over the internet, with a builder we know. Tarsh did one or two site visits. When I got there it was incredible what she had done, even to order all the furniture and have all that inside, it was a really good job.

“The Spanish one we did more together, which is nice.

“We bought our home in Northern Ireland as a 15-year-old house and over the last couple of years we have remodelled it and renovated parts of it. We’ve just completed a gym extension. We are always doing little bits and pieces about homes and interiors. It’s cool.”

Rea’s last race of the season will be at his wife’s home place, Philip Island, an island north of Melbourne synonymous with pristine white beaches, hi-octane motor sports and iconic wildlife.

“To finish the year there will be really nice. It’s like a second home for me as I’ve spent a lot of time there. It’ll really be a home race, it’ll have that home feeling to it and hopefully we’ll have something to celebrate as well.

“It would be really nice to do the good job and finish the season in a nice way out there.”