The king of Gumball Rally 3000 Maximillion Cooper shares the secrets to his success
The entrepreneur talks fast cars, KGB security and how he ended up singing karaoke with North Korea’s supreme leader
The Gumball 3000, a British-born 3,000-mile international motor rally, is arguably the most high-profile rally on the annual racing calendar. Renowned for its exhilarating mix of music, motors and fashion, the rally and its glamorous celebrity after parties have attracted the likes of Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton, actor David Hasselhoff and singer Cee-Lo Green. And its success comes as no surprise with founder Maximillion Cooper – an entrepreneur, designer, race car driver and model – at the helm.
Cooper established the event in May 1999, inviting a group of his closest (and most influential) companions on a road-trip across Europe, during which he threw wild parties attended by model Kate Moss and singers Kylie Minogue and Jamiroquai. Since then, Cooper has successfully raised the rally's profile to reach the international heights it enjoys today. And as 2018 marks Gumball 3000's 20th anniversary, this year's race – which will see participants drive an exciting new route from London to Tokyo – promises to be the best yet.
With a multi-faceted approach to business, The Gumball 3000 Entertainment Group, of which Cooper is CEO, also specialises in affiliated entertainment and clothing divisions, further increasing its company value as predicted by Forbes of over a cool £200m. He's also launched the Gumball 3000 Foundation, a charity that supports provides youth opportunities to underprivileged areas. To learn the secrets behind his success, Tempus spoke exclusively to Cooper to get the low down on fast cars, KGB security – and a very interesting karaoke night with North Korea's supreme leader Kim Jong-il.
Congratulations on the 20th anniversary of the Gumball 3000. How does its current incarnation match your initial ambitions?
It’s gone above and beyond anything I’d imagined. I wanted to create something that combined all my passions, from motoring to music to action sports but, more than anything, it was just a way of getting a group of friends together to do something different and have an adventure. 70% of the people taking part in the first rally weren’t even car people. They were just there for the parties and the social aspect. And that’s something we’ve seen grow year-on-year. >>
Other rallies have launched since Gumball began, but yours is still regarded as the best of its kind. What’s made it such an enduring success?
No one else plans like we do, and we try something new every year. From year two, we flew cars to the rally. Recently in London, we had 3,000 staff at the capital’s event alone and one million people attended. We put on the biggest concerts and get the most exposure of any rally.
Can you reveal any special experiences you’re planning for this 20- year celebration rally, running from London to Tokyo?
After 20 years, we have the perfect format nailed. A six to seven-day trip, with three to four of those as ‘public days’ – like our city festivals. They combine a car show with a music festival and action sports demos. This year, Tokyo will have two days of music festivals. The city has been really supportive – they’re even sponsoring the Tony Hawk vert ramp demonstration, to publicise the 2020 Olympics in the city. Skateboarding is being added to the games for the first time, you see.
A few friends of Tempus took part in a Gumball a decade or so ago, and picked up some speeding tickets along the way. What sort of reputation does the rally have with local authorities these days?
We never do anything dangerous or illegal. In fact, councils close roads or sections of cities for two days for us now, which is very different to the old days. Besides, you can’t really do anything illegal in these digital-first times as the whole thing is pretty much constantly streaming on Facebook Live or YouTube.
Some places have proved challenging though?
Oh, of course. We’ve been to 60 countries over the years, so there have been testing moments. Weirdly, given its history of racing drivers and great car manufacture, Germany has been the trickiest country to date – we were there in 2010 and 2013. They have a total ban on road rallies, but timed stage races are okay, which is odd. Oh, and they hate cars with stickers on them. Russia, though, was another level of craziness. At one point we were crossing the border – we’d appointed former KGB staff as security and they were on the ground and circling above us in a helicopter. As we drove into St Petersburg, the drivers were genuinely scared. All the roads were closed, blacked out Mercedes cars were shadowing us – it was quite something.
Talking of crazy, is it true you sang karaoke with the late Kim Jong-il, supreme leader of North Korea?
Yes, that was the San Francisco to Beijing run. We drove to Vegas and then shipped the cars to China. The drivers got to spend 24 hours in North Korea, hosted by Kim Jong-il. We ended up watching a show in their national stadium – just 300 of us in a stadium built for 150,000 people, which was incredible. More amazing is that we spent the night doing karaoke with Kim Jong-il. I think he was particularly impressed with my version of the Sex Pistols’ My Way. The 2014 rally, which ran from Miami to Ibiza, was also memorable. We parked all the cars at Ibiza’s Old Port, which was quite a sight, and Deadmau5 was DJing for us. He’s a big car guy actually – this year he’s taking part in a car that looks like a fish, apparently. Most importantly, I married [singer] Eve this year at the Blue Marlin beach club. So clearly this was the best ever Gumball!
There have been so many amazing cars on the grid at Gumball over the years, but which ones for you personally have stood out?
The McLaren F1 LM at the first rally, for sure, as it’s only one of five ever made. Oh, and in 2015 we had the Tumbler car from the Batman movie. It got the best reaction of any car from the public – certainly more than any hypercar we’ve featured. In 2012 I got to drive a Shelby Cobra from New York to LA, which was a dream realised.