After the Budget announcement of funding which unlocked his bold plan to build the Crown Works Studio in Sunderland, Leo Pearlman talked to Business Editor Mike Hughes about his beloved Sunderland, the right way to celebrate and what the next step will be.

Leo Pearlman is used to big productions, and keeping a cool head as the spotlights are blazing and the cameras are rolling. But not even he could contain his delight at the few words from Jeremy Hunt that had just changed his life.

The Chancellor’s extra wave of funding for the new North East Mayoral Combined Authority released £450m of private funding that Leo had assembled to build a film studio in Sunderland. If it had been red-penned out of the Budget statement, everything would have stopped and the money and the dream would have gone.

But instead he was heading out for a celebratory meal with his wife and father in London.

“I’m so happy I almost forgot about last night's football results,” he tells me, wincing at Sunderland’s 1-0 loss at home to Leicester.

“I’m incredibly emotional and proud – that’s the top line after what has just happened and to have been involved with all the other stakeholders and partners in getting this over the line.

“I’m grateful to government for stepping up and doing what they needed to do, grateful to the local Council and local authority for being the most incredible partners on this project from day one with us and just so proud that we're able to do something not just for Sunderland, not just for the North East but also for the whole country. It's a special day.”

The idea that we should have spades in the ground this summer is pretty amazing

The bigger picture is not lost on him, with the Government support coming in the form of a Trailblazer package for the combined authority.

“It all has far greater positive implications than just Crown Works - this is something hugely beneficial to the whole region. The fact that we can play a part in that, we're very grateful for but I'm glad that I had very smart people around me to put it all together and show me what it meant for the project.

“We are finally able to say that we are actually doing this, that the first phase and the first six stages can now be unlocked and that will step up to 11 and then to 20 stages, and then who knows from there.

“The idea that we should have spades in the ground this summer, during July and production 2025 in Sunderland, is pretty amazing. “

Thankfully his involvement in the project is very much a long-term plan, but perhaps not as hands-on as he might have liked: “Unfortunately, I won't be allowed to drive a JCB, which is a real shame.

“But there are experts when it comes to the development side of the build and we will be working with the right partners for each part of the project -  as many people as we can who are local to the region.

The Northern Echo: Crown WorksCrown Works (Image: Picture: CROWN WORKS STUDIOS)

“And when it's built, it has to benefit everyone from the first day, so that will be a real focus for us, a commitment to work with as many local firms as we possibly can and keep banging the drum for the region.”

He tells me that the local focus extends to another key element - skills and careers.

“If we fail in building up to that 8,500 new jobs in the region over the next 10 to 12 years, then this will not be a success. It doesn't work if we're shipping in crews and talent from outside the region, it has to be built on local talent and 85% of those jobs are skilled blue collar drivers, carpenters, electricians, plasterers, hairdressers, and makeup.

“They are all the young people of the region right now who wouldn't even consider or dream of the idea of working on the next Star Wars movie or the next Barbie. But now they might have the opportunity to do so.”

But for now, it is time for that celebration as he raises a glass to the army of supporters who got him this far.

“The hard work starts tomorrow, but I might take a couple of hours off this afternoon,” he tells me.

“This feels like we've got our first step on the board - we’ve started on the journey and God knows where that goes. But the hardest step is the first one and thankfully we've been able to take it.

“So I’ll celebrate with my wife and my dad, who is to blame for my love of Sunderland FC  and all things North East. So if we can find a pint of Lambton’s somewhere in London, maybe we'll have a couple.

“I’m beyond words for all of your support and for everyone in the region. Without all those voices, there's no way this would have happened. I'm very realistic about this. This has been a huge effort from so many people, so I know that we will keep talking about it and that you will keep writing about it.”