Not many people can say they met Stephen Hawking, let alone shared a drink with him. But in joining the tributes paid last Wednesday to the late physicist, producer Gabe Turner coolly offered exactly that revelation.
“I once did a shot of tequila with him,” he says. “You can’t exactly say no to an offer like that!”
Turner, who co-founded Fulwell 73 with his brother, Ben, their cousin Leo Pearlman and best friend Ben Winston 13 years ago, regaled stories of his celebrity-filled career at an event hosted by Lead, a division of the Jewish Leadership Council.
More than 130 people listened avidly as he and Pearlman opened up to BBC presenter Samantha Simmonds about their hugely successful endeavours, which includes The Class of 92, the most successful sports documentary of all time, as well as producing box office hits, One Direction 3D: This Is Us and I Am Bolt.
Fulwell 73 are also the creative brains popular American television series, The Late Late Show with James Corden – and by extension the viral hit, Carpool Karaoke – with Birtish-born presenter Corden recently joining the team as their fifth director.
“We always knew we’d do something together,” says Turner, 37, of growing up in north London with his co-directors. “We used to get in trouble when we were younger – I actually missed bensching at my own barmitzvah, because I was checking the Sunderland score with Leo!”
Being the children of parents from Sunderland – and massive football fans – the Turner brothers suggested the name ‘Fulwell 73’ for their fledgling company. Sunderland last won the FA Cup in 1973, and the brothers would enjoy watching Sunderland games from the Fulwell end of the old Roker Park stadium.
Football played a critical role in launching their company, with Pearlman revealing their break came following a chance encounter in a pub with television producers.
“We managed to successfully pitch a show about kids playing freestyle football. Hardly anyone watched, but it ran for 20 weeks and really enabled us to try out material. By the end we were quite polished,” he explains.
In 2013, the directors indulged their passion once more with the release of The Class of ’92, which chronicles the rise of six young Manchester United footballers who became international superstars.
Pearlman says: “The favourite moment of my career was making The Class of ‘92. The old Manchester United players got together to play a five-a side game. It was David Beckham, Gary and Phil Neville, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and a bunch of youth team players they used to play with.
“I drove up with James Cordon on a hot summer’s day and just sat in the sun, drinking beer and watching those amazing players do their stuff. It was absolutely ridiculous,” he says shaking his head in near disbelief.
For Turner, a special career highlight was working with Mo Farah and Usain Bolt during the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“There wasn’t a particularly big contingent following British stars at Rio, as occurred in London, so watching Mo and Usain win five medals between them was spectacular. I loved filming with them and my genuine love of sport definitely made for better content.”
With their growing success, the directors have become as globe-trotting as the international stars they have documented, but it’s not all glamorous, admits Turner.
“The travelling is probably the worst part of the job. Of course, the experiences we have are incredible, but I have a young family and being away from my wife and kids can be difficult.”
And despite regularly hanging out with the biggest stars on the globe, including One Direction, Justin Bieber, Jimmy Carr and Michael Mcintyre, both Turner and Pearlman remain committed to helping the Jewish community and make promotional videos for charities.
All four grew up as members of Bnei Akiva and come from a modern orthodox background.
Wherever possible, they have sought to take their Jewishness with them when travelling across the world – including making Seder from a motel in Dallas.
“While filming In The Hands of The Gods, we were absolutely determined to do a seder night,” recalls Pearlman. “So we phoned up a kosher caterer, but they said the minimum order would need to be 20. We agreed – and my goodness there was a lot of Haroset!” he laughs.
Looking back over their career highlights, it’s clear to see there’s plenty of camaraderie between the two directors – something that Turner attributes to much of Fulwell 73’s success to date.
“I think that closeness and sense of adventure we had growing up stayed with us and explains much of our success,” he adds. “We’re different people, but we’re into the same kind of things and complement each other in our work.”