The latest prize worth a total of £2million is a property in North Yorkshire
Stunt driver Paul Rees has to remain secretive about his Hollywood film roles. Contractually, most of the time he can’t reveal which action films he’s worked on, let alone the names of the stars he might have stood in for behind a steering wheel. But for his latest job, an exception was made: on the new Mission Impossible film – Dead Reckoning Part One – he was employed to give Tom Cruise a few driving tips. And it turns out the US actor, who plays secret agent Ethan Hunt in the mega film franchise, is quite the motorist.
“I was amazed at how competent he is,” Rees, 37, tells the Daily Express. “He has a deep, intense focus, brilliant speed of reaction, and he’s got a very good feel for a car. I reckon he could be a racing driver.”
Rees, who lives in Oxford with his wife and two young sons, has also worked as a stunt driver for Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds – although, again for contractual reasons, he’s not allowed to reveal which films. On top of that, he stood in for Formula One driver Jenson Button in TV adverts for Johnnie Walker whisky.
“Stunt performers are at the top of their game, but the whole point is that we are invisible and anonymous,” he continues.
“The driving is scarily real, believe me, especially when it involves sliding and drifting through towns and cities and car parks. They are very real, but just the most fun.”
Despite the professional secrecy, there is one role for which Rees is happy to be recognised: working as a driver for fundraising company Omaze. The California-based firm, which raises huge amounts of money for UK charities, has given away 15 luxury British homes over the past three years.
Its latest, to be drawn Sunday, is a luxury farmhouse in North Yorkshire. The picturesque property near Harrogate, along with £100,000 in cash, makes a grand prize worth £2million, while raising money for Blood Cancer UK.
The next property coming up for grabs is a £4.5million house on the north Norfolk coast, raising funds for the RNLI.
The firm has also given away some 30 sports cars to winners. It’s these that Rees delivers. In August 2021, for instance, he pulled up outside the workplace of a Welsh winner, in the town of Newport, driving a bright orange McLaren 720S Spider, worth more than £275,000. Seconds later, Rees had handed over the car keys.
“That was one of the most humbling things I have ever done,” he recalls.
“I came away absolutely buzzing. Winning this car has changed the winner’s life, no doubt about that. I had such a good time with him, driving him around and showing him what the car can do.”
Rees then appeared in a short film to celebrate the winner’s luck. “I enjoy being behind the camera but I do like being in front of the camera now for these Omaze mini-films, which people seem to love. It’s a win-win situation, especially for the charities.”
Although Omaze itself is not a charity, many well-known UK causes benefit directly from its prize draws.
Since its UK launch in 2020, more than £13million has been raised for Teenage Cancer Trust, British Heart Foundation, The Prince’s Trust, NSPCC’s Childline, Cancer Research UK, GOSH Charity, Alzheimer’s Research UK, the RSPCA, Blood Cancer UK, Marie Curie, The Dogs’ Trust and Global’s Make Some Noise. The firm gives 80 percent of the net profit from its sweepstake to charity, after deducting the cost of the prize and marketing.
In charge of Omaze’s UK subsidiary is Brighton-born entrepreneur James Oakes. He originally invested in the company in 2017 when it was operating solely in the US, and offering prizes such as dinner dates with Hollywood stars. Oakes, a trained economist, suggested bringing the concept to the UK, but with prize draws for houses and cars instead. Oakes claims the UK subsidiary has now grown to be more successful than the US operation.
“We started in 2020 when we were fighting against a kind of ‘It sounds too-good-to-be-true’ sentiment, as well as healthy British scepticism,” explains the 45-year-old who lives in west London with his wife and two young sons. “Over time that has gone away because people can see there are winners and charities benefit too. I’m both surprised and over the moon at the rate of growth.”
In the last year the London-based company has doubled the size of its staff to 35. Oakes first brought Rees on board for an advert two years ago.
“Filming the hand-overs has helped convince people it isn’t a scam,” the stunt driver explains. “People know when they buy a ticket, some of that money will be helping a very worthwhile charity. It’s a bit like buying a lottery ticket and knowing money will go to good causes.”
Paul with tennis players Caroline Wozniacki and Serena Williams
Rees says he himself used to buy Omaze tickets but is precluded from doing so now because he’s an employee. His family members aren’t allowed to buy them either.
“My mum is furious about that because she wants to try to win one of their houses,” he adds with a smile.
Rees inherited his love of motor racing from his father Alan, a former Formula 1 racing driver who ran his own race teams.
Although Rees senior tried to put his son off a career on the track – many of his close friends lost their lives in this dangerous sport – young Paul was bitten by the bug.
As a boy, he competed in karting before moving his way up to Formula 2 level. Next year he will return to the Porsche Supercup. He also works as a pro driver with McLaren. “The Formula 1 ship has sailed for me, but I still have many years ahead of top racing,” says the Oxford-born driver, whose launch into motorsport was helped by a £10,000 grant given from his former place of education, Cokethorpe, an independent school in Oxfordshire.
Having that cash boost at a vital time has led to so many career opportunities around the world in a glamorous sport where he mixes with celebrities of all types.
Part of his work involves teaching people to drive high-speed cars, with Brooklyn Beckham among his clients.
Rees was particularly impressed with the driving skills of David Beckham’s son and believes the former model has the potential to be a top-class driver.
“I’ve met some of the richest people in the world but, just because they are worth tens of billions, it doesn’t mean they are blessed with driving skills,” he adds.
“I help them to understand fast cars which cost several million pounds and can reach speeds up to 300 miles per hour. They are usually intelligent and pick it up quickly.”
Being a racing driver also opens doors to other worlds mere mortals can only dream about. In 2014 he found himself racing in the Porsche Supercup at the Circuit of the Americas in Texas, home of the United States Grand Prix.
Lined up on the grid, ready to start, he suddenly noticed tennis champion Serena Williams sauntering past.
After the race, Formula 1 legend Eddie Jordan invited him down to the Bahamas with him to play in a pro-am golf tournament hosted by Tiger Woods in 2014.
As a single-figure golfer, Rees couldn’t resist the opportunity to play at the beautiful Albany golf course there. During play, he got chatting to a sporty blonde woman who challenged him to a game of tennis. He had no idea at the time, but it was former world number one tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, the Danish player who had just split from golfer Rory McIlroy.
“Once she hit a few balls over the net, alarm bells started ringing and I knew I stood no chance,” Rees remembers. “So I asked her her name and when she told me I was speechless.
“There I was playing tennis with one of the best players in the world.
Racing driver Paul Rees
“Eddie Jordan thought it was hilarious. Our group all went out for a meal in the evening and Caroline said a friend was coming to join us, and then in walked Serena Williams.”
That weekend, the island they were staying on was hosting a triathlon. Rees, Williams and Wozniacki decided to enter as a three-person team, with Rees taking the ocean swim, Williams on the bike section, and Wozniacki doing the run.
“It was incredible to compete alongside two of the greatest tennis players in the world,” Rees smiles. “It was completely unplanned. Motorsport gets you into the weirdest and most wonderful situations. Serena later invited me and my wife to watch her play at Wimbledon.”
For all the A-List attention, Rees still loves his day job delivering prize draw cars to Omaze winners. “Seeing their faces is just amazing,” he adds.
Or should that be Omazing?