Joe Kallas (left) and Joe Pepper (right) are more than just namesakes, they have known each other since they were babies, and their mothers were in the same NCT group. Three decades later, both are still close friends and have been through good and tough times together.
Joe Pepper has a sight loss condition called Choroideremia, which is caused by a mutation in a gene which normally produces a specific protein called REP-1 in the retina, the light sensitive cells. Without this protein the cells in the retina start deteriorating and dying off, which causes blindness. Joe was diagnosed with the condition as a child, meaning Joe Kallas, grew up witnessing his friend’s eyesight deteriorate first hand.
To mark National Best Friends Day, we sat down to chat with both Joes to find out more about their friendship and how it has stood the test of time…
What are your favourite things about each other?
JK: He’s my oldest friend. I like how passionate, loyal, and driven Joe is. Especially with his career in teaching, as well as his sports and charity work [Joe Pepper has been involved with Fight for Sight for years, he featured on a podcast with CEO, Keith Valentine, discussing his experience]. I’m inspired by him and that’s why I wanted to run the marathon this year on his behalf.
JP: I think we’ve always been friends and he’s always stuck by me and been there to cheer me up even when I was struggling. He always had a funny, cheeky energy that made me laugh. I like how we’ve grown up and still have this companionship where we check in with each other and make sure we’re okay. We are family.
What is your favourite memory of hanging out together?
JK: We’ve known each other since birth and our mums were friends, so we’d frequently go to each other’s houses and go to the same parties. I would say my favourite thing though was playing cricket together for our local club in Bromley. It was always a good laugh, even if we weren’t the best players! In true Joe style, he was always the captain and had all these fun ideas. I think he fancied himself as a bit of a Michael Vaughan because he was a leader and had the same traits. It didn’t surprise me when he started to get involved with charities, that’s just his nature.
JP: Haha, I would say the same! Playing cricket together and just going through life together as kids. One of my wacky Captain ideas did lead to Joe clean bowling a boy who had consistently hit him for boundaries though, so my bossiness paid off!
You’ve clearly known each other forever but can you remember what your early impressions of each other were as kids?
JK: Hahaha, well at first probably bossy and Joe is very clever, and I think as a child I felt he was a bit of a know it all. Never in a bad way but as a kid it can wind you up [laughs]. I think we are very different. I was much more laid back, and he wasn’t, and I think that’s why we got on so well… because we balanced each other out.
JP: [Laughs] Definitely bossy! I did make Joe obsessed with knights like I was as a child!
Joe is much more laidback than me and I remember thinking he’s quite naughty; a joker. My first memory of Joe is probably as a child that always seemed to be eating crisps. I have never known a child to eat so many crisps! I also always remember as a kid, Joe was obsessed by his Nintendo to the extent that Mario and Luigi games were almost permanently played.
Our parents’ earliest memory though, would be taking us to have our injections together to help calm us, but in fact, it led to us running round the doctor’s office, refusing to have all jabs and hiding under chairs.
So, we know you both liked sport growing up and were cricketers, but what do you both like to do now together as adults?
JK: Although we’re still close, we don’t get to see each other very often so when we do meet, we tend to go for a few beers and a curry, where we can have a good catch up. We still have a lot of shared interests, so when we meet now it genuinely feels like we’re picking up from where we left off. I think once you’ve known each other for so long it’s so easy to slip back in.
JP: Yes, I agree. Joe dropped his mum off at my old house to see my family not long ago and he was saying how it’s still so familiar and nothing’s changed even though it has. Again, it’s like we are family.
Final question… Which double act do you think you are most like? Ant and Dec? Laurel and Hardy?
JK: Probably the chuckle brothers [laughs]. Paul and Barry …
JP: Haha, yes because we both have a good laugh together!