The former racing driver is sitting astride a motorbike that once belonged to Steve McQueen. He tells us how he settled on organising what has become a legendary annual road trip, loved by celebrities, eccentrics and motor enthusiasts alike. Now, Max Cooper’s Gumball 3000 is a global corporation worth millions.

'It’s not a race, it’s a road trip,’ he says of the Gumball 3000 rally.

The key to his success, he says, has been that he never wanted to run a traditional motoring event.

‘A lot of what has inspired me over the years and what I have aimed to do with Gumball has come from challenging tradition and convention,’ says Cooper.

Everything started as he had to face facts. In 199​​7, he raced his last full season – ​in ​the Porsche Supercup –​ back then he realised he wasn’t the best driver in the world.

The would-be racing driver had the extraordinary experience of studying under John Galliano during the week at Saint Martin’s School of Art, with his classmates Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen. For years, he was a part of London's most fashionable circles and bringing together the worlds of modelling, fashion, music and extreme sports. Few could boast an address book quite as eclectic as his.

It was this cultural melting pot that gave Cooper a crazy idea. In short, he’d create a swashbuckling F1 organisation that would bring glamour back to the sport.

In 1999, Cooper decided to stage a rally for 50 of his friends. They would drive from London to Rimini. And while he’d organise everything, there would be an admission charge. The template was established: a trip of 3000 miles over a week. Parties and events along the way. The following year, he did it again, and then every year since, bar 2020, of course.

Now, 21 rallies later, Gumball 3000 has grown into a multifaceted global business. Cooper still takes part and he is joined by a band of celebrities, many of whom return year after year. Alumni include Lewis Hamilton, Hugh Hefner, Kate Moss, Adrien Brody, Quentin Tarantino, Snoop Dogg, Jay Kay, Johnny Knoxville, Daryl Hannah, Jodie Kidd, Cypress Hill, the Happy Mondays, Damon Hill, deadmau5 and more.

Gumball 3000 Sony Playstation video game made top 10 in the global gaming charts and there has also been an Xbox game. Both platforms will feature new releases in the next couple of years, and 2021 will see the launch of the first ever Gumball 3000 mobile App game.
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DISPATCHES by Peter Howarth: Tim Marlow