Four days, 689 miles, 80 celeb women, 40 sports cars – and driving in Gucci loafers. What could go wrong? Former It-girl Normandie Keith kept a diary of her Frisco to Vegas Thelma & Louise tour…
Fast cars, inspiring women, sensational scenery, a whole lotta laughter and the opportunity to raise money for very good causes. What’s not to love? When I first heard about the Cash & Rocket Tour I leapt at the chance to be involved. It may look like a rally, but this is no race: it’s not women pitted against women, it’s about celebrating sisterhood and enjoying a fabulous road trip, Thelma & Louise-style. There were 80 women taking part, each influential in her own right, all from different places and professions.
Last month I was giddy with excitement to be alongside the likes of supermodels Ashley Graham and Arizona Muse, actress Selita Ebanks and social-media superstars Lena Perminova and Gala Gonzalez. My co-pilot was Kim Porter, my best friend of 20-odd years. We were to spend three days travelling the West Coast of America from San Francisco to Las Vegas via Santa Barbara and Malibu beach.
First up: my wheels. Several of my fellow pilots had hired supercars for the occasion, but I stuck to what I knew: my trusty white Porsche Macan, which is more usually found on the school run or carrying my groceries [Normandie lives in Los Angeles with her son Finn, 12]. Thankfully, West Coast Auto (from MTV’s Pimp My Ride) took it apart to cover every inch in a special sticky plastic, leaving it bright red – the regulation colour. I’m worried it will run into the paint underneath and I’ll end up with a candy-pink car.
Next: looking the part. There’s a big fashion element to this adventure and my usual uniform of yoga pants (I’m a yoga teacher) was not going to cut it. Kim and I took a lot of time deciding on our outfits: matching trousers, furry Gucci loafers (perfect, as I’d broken two toes the week before) and bum bags – the most useful thing in the world. We spiced things up with red sunglasses and red bunny ears by day and in the evening we were expected to dress up for themed events that required outfits in gold, red and white.
Packing complete and car ready at the start line in San Francisco, it was time to begin the adventure.
Day One: a golden party and a crumpled dress
Once we’d all arrived, raring to put our pedals to the metal, we gathered for the gold-themed launch dinner. When I was on the London party scene I had a wardrobe full of gold gowns. Luckily, I found a simple velvet option by LA designer Michelle Mason.
Of course, when I took it out of the car it was a crumpled mess. I attempted to fix it using the hotel iron, with disastrous results. There were just minutes to go and the dress had a giant damp patch. A previous me would have had a breakdown, but keeping in mind the focus of the event, I realised the most important thing was not what I was wearing but the warmth and love I showed to the people I was with. Everyone looked sensational. Ashley Graham was so exquisite in a shimmering dress that I couldn’t stop looking at her all night.
Day Two: a turboglam start and an early night
Everything about Cash & Rocket is meticulously planned. The founder Julie Brangstrup (the entrepreneur behind the Gumball 3000 Rally and a mother of seven) is a dynamo – there was nothing she hadn’t thought of. At the start I looked around at all the women I’d met the night before: a vision of female empowerment. Women in the driving seat of their own lives. That’s my kind of event.
We were all kitted out in fabulous sunglasses, gifted by Valentino, and our tour T-shirts (Kim and I had taken scissors to ours, leaving mine a little low on the shoulder). We couldn’t wait for the drive down to Monterey. I left Kim in charge of tunes and we grooved out to her son Christian Combes’s new album and Bad Boy records’ greatest hits, which we mixed with a little mantra and chanting for a Zen beat.
Our plan that afternoon was for me to teach yoga at the Ritz Carlton in Santa Barbara, where we were all staying. Alas, yoga began at 6.30pm… and we pulled in at 7.15pm. It took a lot of deep breathing on my part not to burst into tears, but I had another class planned for Malibu the following day so I kept my cool.
The night’s theme was white and after dinner, some energised ladies set off for the Little Door, an exquisite restaurant that was hosting a party. Kim and I headed to bed as the wake-up call was at 6am – and this time we were not going to be late!
Day Three: beach yoga and a police escort
Before the event I was nervous about getting behind the wheel: we had to navigate ourselves and I’m a terrible driver. Luckily there was a support crew – I am happy to park my car at the supermarket, but reverse it between a brand new Ferrari and a Maserati? No thanks!
By now everyone had bonded big time and it began to feel as if we were one spirit flowing together as we set off to Zuma beach in Malibu. It’s unusual to have the opportunity to make new friends when you are my age, but suddenly I was among 80. This time we made it for the beach yoga session and it was bliss.
As we drove on, we reminded ourselves that the event’s slogan was ‘drive the change’. We were there first and foremost to raise money for three amazing charities: The Art of Elysium, Shine on Sierra Leone and Sumbandila. We were posting, calling and texting our contacts, friends and acquaintances for support. We got an incredible response in the towns we drove through, before cruising into LA under police escort.
We made our way to Rodeo Drive to enjoy a reception at the Valentino boutique (we may have been sidetracked for a moment, as we couldn’t help but browse). We then popped across the street to the Beverly Wilshire hotel to get ready for that night’s PJ party, where we were joined by actresses Rosario Dawson and Jackie Cruz (from Orange is the New Black).
After driving all day with our co-pilots, we also shared a room with them at night. Luckily Kim and I are compatible bedfellows as she sleeps deeply until 8am, whereas I get up to practise yoga at 5am. It’s a miracle she can slumber through my chanting. With no time for privacy or shyness, let’s just say I now feel closer to Kim than ever before!
Day Four: a desert drive and bubbly in Vegas
Kim and I entered a parallel universe where whole hours disappeared and we ended up being extremely late for a very important date with the LAPD . The plan was to all meet back at our cars on Rodeo Drive for the police escort out of LA. We ended up having to run up Rodeo, sweating like crazy (that street feels a lot shorter when you are shopping). Our friends, already lined up in their cars, were calling out, ‘What did you guys get up to last night?’ Police officers stood by, taking selfies next to the cars and laughing at us. It was the ultimate walk of shame.
Next up was the desert drive, where we all felt free and uninhibited (a few speed demons even got pulled over). Kim and I are usually huge salad fanatics, but after long days of driving we were craving dirty burgers and fries, which we eventually got when we stopped at a 1950s-themed diner, complete with an Elvis fortune-telling machine.
The Cash & Rocket Tour is an Instagrammer’s dream, and so many participants have millions of followers. I watched these girls post 50 stories, make videos and get people to take photos of them at every opportunity. I thank God Instagram didn’t exist in the 90s – back then, if you weren’t at the party you didn’t care, because you’d never even know it had happened!
We cruised into Las Vegas where a ‘beach’ bonanza was hosted at the Wynn hotel. We were all quickly ushered to the VIP section, looking over 3,000 people dancing below us. And you know what they say about what happens in Vegas!
We all changed into red dresses for the closing party. Everyone went completely crazy when Julie announced that we had reached our fundraising goal (£380,000 has been raised so far). Champagne was popped and we all broke out in a victory dance. What an experience! I’ve gained new perspectives, new friends and possibly a new pink car. Sign me up for the next one.
As told to Amy E Williams