LADIES, START YOUR ENGINES
TO ENTICE SCORES OF PHILANTHROPIC — AND GLAMOROUS — WOMEN TO RAISE FUNDS FOR CHARITIES IN AFRICA, JULIE BRANGSTRUP CREATES A ROAD TRIP TO REMEMBER
It isn’t a race, but a fundraising drive, literally, from London to Cannes via Paris, Lyon and Milan, to raise money for African charities supporting women’s health and education
The brand new Aston Martin Rapide zips through Paris on a fine Sunday morning, its American-accented navigation system messing up the French street names. Thirtyfive luxury cars follow in an entourage that would be hard to miss: all painted a shiny lipstick red, their horns honking in succession at every turn, and manned by a team of more than 70 glamorous women from all over the globe. The locals must love us.
Leader of the pack is Julie Brangstrup, the Londonbased founder of Cash & Rocket, an annual charity fundraising tour. I am her co-pilot in the Aston Martin, unexpectedly delegated with getting this band of ladies from Paris to Lyon. Brangstrup, a glamorous brunette and mother of five, looks right at home in her powerful roadster. “I love the sound of the engine, and the way it drives” she purrs. “So many luxury cars are mass-produced now so if you want something unique then this is the one.”
This is not a joy ride. There’s plenty of fun to be had on the various pit stops around Europe: a Valentino party in Paris (Valentino has sponsored the event for some years), a night in a Chateau, the Cannes Film Festival; but they mean business. Over the course of the next five days the group will raise around £1.5 million ($3m) for Cash & Rocket’s nominated charities, three foundations that focus on education and women’s health in Africa.
This is also not a race — in fact, speeding is strictly forbidden — but a dash for cash to see which team can raise the most money before they cross the finish line in Cannes. Chloe Green, the 24-year-old daughter of billionaire retailer Sir Philip Green, won last year and will win again this year, with the Valentino team (usually headed by artistic director Maria Grazia Chiuri, who had to pull out at the last minute) clocking in second. Riders also include models Arizona Muse, Anna Cleveland and Ashley Graham, as well as actress Michelle Rodriguez, and Jo Wood, the ex-wife of the Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood. Wood is a Cash & Rocket veteran, having driven in every race. The Londoner is also a professed lead foot. “Normally I like to be at the front but I took a wrong turn when we left London,” she says with a cackle.
These women are no strangers to social fundraisers, but this is an entirely original experience. “Most of these women are in very high-paid, senior positions and for them to take a week off to do this I knew I need to create a real adventure; something they would want to talk about and share,” Brangstrup says. On top of their fundraising efforts, the women also pay to take part (£14,000 for a team of two), meaning all money raised goes to charity.
“That’s one of the best things about this organisation: everything we raise, everything we donate, goes directly to the charities,” says Leila Yavari, fashion director of Stylebop, the exclusive online retailer of the Valentino and Cash & Rocket capsule collection: race-ready gear such as utility-inspired jumpsuits and jackets in camouflage print and classic black. Yavari signed up as both a driver and a sponsor of the tour.
Brangstrup has had a long love affair with cars. She started the notorious Gumball 3000 rally with ex-husband Maximilian Cooper, and after the couple split she decided to strike out on her own — only this time she wanted to raise some money for a good cause. Four years on and the Cash & Rocket tour has already made a tangible difference to the three charity partners: Shine on Sierra Leone, OAfrica, and Sumbandila, small-scale operations through which Brangstrup can follow every donation all the way to the individual beneficiary.
“There’s also a flexibility with the funds meaning that we have the ability to act quickly,” she says. “Last year the money we’d raised was meant to go to building a secondary school, but when Ebola struck we were able to quickly redirect the money to fighting the virus.”
“Our area of Kono in Sierra Leone was a hotbed for the Ebola virus, but thanks to Cash & Rocket we were able to respond immediately and effectively,” explains Tiffany Persons from Shine on Sierra Leone. “We already had a dialogue with the community so we were able to educate them on the virus, to provide them with sanitation kits and take care of more than 40 quarantined homes. In the end we had zero cases of Ebola — we really saved lives. It was a miracle.”
Later that night, after the carloads of Louis Vuitton luggage have been unpacked, the tour dines under the stars at the Chateau de Pizay, just outside of Lyon. After main course, three documentaries are screened detailing the progress the charities have made already. There’s not a dry eye in the house and some of the women stand up to make impromptu speeches but have difficulty finding their words. The heart of what they are doing together has already eclipsed the fun they had earlier that day.
“I’m so struck by the camaraderie of all these women who are involved,” Yavari says, before raising her glass along with her fellow travellers. “One of Julie’s messages is ‘women helping women’ and you can really feel that tonight. I’m not sure there’s anything more empowering.”
Although the tour has finished for 2015, you can still support the cause: the Cash & Rocket Valentino collection can be purchased from Stylebop now, with 20per cent of the proceeds going to the charities.