After meeting Julie Brangstrup, few would have the chutzpah to complain about the lack of time in their lives. A businesswoman, consultant, philanthropist, event organiser, business psychologist and mother of seven, Danish-born Brangstrup has lived in London for nearly two decades. Her passion is Cash & Rocket, a car tour set up in 2011 as a new way of fund-raising for charity.
“I got fed up with gala dinners, to be honest,” says Brangstrup from a central London office belonging to her husband, Mark Brangstrup Watts (her own office, she claims, is “too chaotic” for our cameras). “I wanted to combine my passion for fashion and cars.” In an earlier life, with first husband Max Cooper, she was heavily involved in the Gumball 3000 rally. “After Gumball, I started doing strategy for fashion brands, looking at content tailored for the female consumer,” she continues. “One day, I thought I should really do another driving tour. ‘Cash & Rocket’ comes from the fact that we need to raise money and we need to raise money fast.”
Cash & Rocket is for women only. Every year, Brangstrup breaks out her contacts book to bring new drivers into the fold. This summer will be the organisation’s fifth tour and its first in the US. “It’s all about combining luxury brands with charity,” she explains. “With 40 cars driven by 80 powerful women from high-end companies and industries, it really makes an impact.” Cash & Rocket fund-raises for two charities, Sumbandila in South Africa and Shine On Sierra Leone in Sierra Leone. “They’re both run by women who have given up their lives to work for children,” she says. “The money we raise goes towards helping them improve education and health.” Her four-strong team — crammed into that aforementioned office — channels sponsorship money to the two charities in Africa.
The fifth Cash & Rocket tour gets underway this summer. Its four-day itinerary takes in Highway 1, running south from San Francisco to Carmel, Santa Barbara and Malibu Beach, ending up with a drive to Las Vegas. It’s the quintessential American road trip, only the difference is that the 40 participating cars will all be red — as always — with drivers as committed to raising funds as they are to enjoying the road. “It has been a year in the planning,” says Brangstrup. “You need all the permissions — for driving with a police escort, for closing things down, for parking 40 cars together.”
I bought the Rapide S after we were lent one for our first Cash & Rocket tour. I liked it so much — it’s such a great ride”
The collective impact of 40 smartly attired red cars, all with matching Cash & Rocket event stickers and with
80 women having the adventure of their lives, is, as Brangstrup puts it, “a very powerful image”. And image is at the heart of what Cash & Rocket does, whether it’s putting the cars in San Francisco’s Union Square, or lining them up along Malibu Pier, or even arranging the fleet outside the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills so that the drivers can see them from their balconies.
Brangstrup knows a thing or two about bringing bold style to her events. “This year, we’re going to try to close off the Vegas Strip to traffic,” she says, and you know she’ll probably get her way. An earlier tour saw the Cash & Rocket fleet park up in St Mark’s Square in Venice, perhaps the first and only time 40 red cars could be seen in the city.
Sponsors support them with merchandise and special products — everything from T-shirts and phone cases to perfume and sunglasses. “It brings people into the lifestyle, even if they’re not on the event,” she says. “It’s about getting these brands to come together. It’s not a competition. The fund-raising is the biggest competition between them.”
The drivers are the essential component. “These women love cars and travel, but they’re also people who have made a difference. And you need to mix different personalities and nationalities,” says Brangstrup. “I’m taking them out of their comfort zone and telling them what to do every second for four days. By day three, they’re usually united and have become friends. Hopefully forever.”
Evening events bring partners, family and sponsors to mingle with the drivers, and Brangstrup is acutely aware of the importance of social media to the whole enterprise. “It’s a key part for people to be able to see what’s happening and follow the event.” In addition, each tour is joined by representatives from the charities themselves. “They come along and educate us. In return, we go to Africa and see the schools being built and meet the children. We also do lunches, events and auctions, keeping the relationship between the brands and charities going. We have a good database now.”
So what’s next? After four tours of Europe, she hopes to spend a couple of years in the US and then, perhaps, China. And the family car, which for the past four years has been a bold red Aston Martin Rapide S with a specially ordered green interior, is about to be retired and switched for something a little more accommodating for her seven children: the Rapide S might be the most family-orientated Aston, but there are limits.
Brangstrup’s relationship with Aston Martin goes back a long way. “I love the DB5 and the DB9. And I really love the DB10 — I’d like one of those,” she enthuses.“I bought the Rapide S after we were lent one for our first Cash & Rocket tour,” she recalls. “I liked it so much — it’s such a great drive.”
She admits that her wish-list of potential future drivers and sponsors is endless. “We’ve always had fantastic support from manufacturers, including Aston Martin,” she says. In 2015, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli of Valentino partnered with Aston Martin and the Q personalisation service to create a bold, camouflage-patterned Vanquish Volante for a Cash & Rocket gala auction in London. “The seller bought it and put it straight back into the auction,” she says, marvelling at the largesse.
Other recent projects are a little closer to home, specifically the reconstruction of her family’s West London home. “It took two-and-a-half years,” she says, shuddering. “Never again.” One wonders where she found the time, for Brangstrup’s is the definition of a full life — she’s heading to LA the day after we talk to make more arrangements for this summer’s event. Combining the power of the brand with the thrill of the open road, the Cash & Rocket grand tour is all for an excellent cause.