The charity’s connections at the highest military and diplomatic levels ensure experiences are of the money-can’t-buy variety and include police escorts and official receptions. However, so participants’ heads aren’t completely turned, every mile of the drive has a serious significance.
“We plan the routes to encompass a minimum of five miles for each of the 456 British service personnel who gave their lives while on active service in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2014,” says Clark. “The first drive was in 2010. We planned to take just three cars but eventually set off with 27 and raised a little over £32,000. Co-director Benn Laidler, who serves in the Royal Navy, joined me on the trip. We both knew service people who had been killed in Afghanistan, as did our operations director Steve Shaw, another Navy man, who joined us on the 2012 drive.”
Since those first tours, Rally for Heroes has raised £600,000 for services charities. By the end of this year’s tour it hopes to have pushed the total beyond £750,000.
However, promoting and organising the tours, attracting sponsorship (this year’s main sponsor is Collins Aerospace) and ensuring the charity’s fundraising goals are met has, says Clark, been exhausting – so much so that this year’s drive, a 10-day European tour starting on 5 August from Dover Castle, where the first tour began in 2010, will be the last: “All good things come to an end. Since our first rally, we’ve taken more than 700 people and 360 vehicles over 18,000 miles, on the way to raising more than £600,000 for military charities – but it has been hard work.”
Fun, too, though. Clark recalls his own cars that he’s driven on the tour, including a pair of Focus STs and Audi A5s, and, for the 2018 tour, an Aston Martin Vantage.
“It was my dream car but this year I’m taking my BMW 435d which has an Autovogue conversion so it looks like an M4.”
And there’s a good reason for Clark choosing such eye-catching motors. “A performance car draws a crowd at pre-tour fundraising shows,” he explains. “People like to come over for a chat and to ogle the cars. On a good day, we can easily raise £1000.”
Such has been the success of fundraisers like these that the 2020 drive is already filled, with a long list of reserve participants hoping some will drop out. Meanwhile, Clark can’t speak highly enough about SSAFA, the charity that will benefit from all this enthusiasm.
“It’s the speed with which SSAFA makes things happen that impresses us,” he says. “I remember an old World War II veteran who’d been too proud to call the charity for help. He needed help to cover his bills for two months and also with updating his damaged carpets and furniture. Within a week, SSAFA had refurbished his home and paid his bills.”