IT used to be that Charlie Mullins was best known for his plumbing.
And it’s true to say that the 60-something Londoner first came to international attention for making the blue-collar job sexy in the city, with smart uniforms, liveried vans and a touch of lavatory humour – plumbing-themed number plates (LAV 1, F1USH). Over 40 years on, he still knows his way around a lavatory.
But after selling the company he founded 42 years ago to a US-based home services provider in a multimillion pound deal on Monday, Charlie tells The Olive Press he’s pleased that he ‘won’t have to clean any more toilets’.
Britain’s richest plumber was in high spirits when we chatted to him from his plush La Cala pad shortly after he sealed the deal to sell Pimlico Plumbers to US company Neighborly, owned by the private equity firm KKR.
The press initially reported that selling off the plumbing and electricals business will have netted him a profit of around £110million, but the holder of the first OBE ever awarded for services to plumbing, tells us it is much higher.
“The lawyers are still working it out but the deal is going to make me much more than those reports claimed,” he says with characteristic candour while sunning himself at his home on the Costa del Sol. “The company was always going to be worth more than that. Ballpark I think it will be between £125 to 145million.
“Pimlico Plumbers is a great company and we’ve had interest from the Middle East , Paris and America but Neighborly was the right fit at the right time.
“I’m delighted. Pimlico has been my life for the last 40 years, handing it over to my son Scott. I couldn’t be happier, I think they are well set to take it international.
“It was getting to the point where I was thinking how we were going to expand it over the next ten year and whether that was something I wanted to do. Now Scott can build on what I started – and I can focus on other things.”
Namely, becoming Spain’s answer to Simon Cowell. Yes, really.
“I’m going from plumbing to pipes!” he hollers down the phone, cackling madly. “I know common sense and business and I think why not? I’ve always been into my music.”
Indeed tinkering with music management might not be as mad as it sounds. Charlie, a council estate lad who left school at 15 with no qualifications, has always been strategic. Friends liken him to a great pool player: as he lines up one shot, he’s making sure he’s set up for the next.
But despite his success and reputation as a ballsy plumbing tycoon, Charlie is the first one to pull somebody’s chain.
“I can’t even sing in the shower,” he jokes. “But I know talent. Who knows, maybe this will be the first step at a talent management company along the Costa del Sol.”
His first client is Rara, a Cheltenham-born singer who has recorded with the legendary David Bowie producer Tony Visconti. Her songs and vocals have featured on albums including Dean Street Studios, Beach Grooves and Perfect Havoc and Charlie is certain she’s destined for big things.
“I see her at the top of the charts. Her next single Bad Boys is going to be huge.”
Charlie and Rare first became friends after he spotted her on the entertainment circuit on the Costa del Sol, and he said he knew instantly she would become a star.
“There’s always been something about her. I predict she is the next Amy Winehouse.”
Like Rara, Charlie loves being in the limelight – “It’s just good business sense. I worked that out 30 odd years ago” – with former clients have included the Dames (Judy and Helen) Chris Tarrant, Hugh Grant and Joanna Lumley
“She did our ads for us,” he says. “Never met her, but I absolutely adore her. My engineers always told me everything and she’s known for being very, very nice.”
Another big move ahead is securing a permanent home in Spain. He’s got his lawyers working on securing him dual citizenship so he – a firm Remainer – can enjoy life on the Costa regardless of what Brexit throws at him. He has his eye on building his property portfolio down the coast. The next stop? “It’s got to be Marbella doesn’t it?”
Charlie is 68 – he’ll be 69 next month – and he isn’t showing any sign of scaling down his professional endeavours. Might he ever retire? “I don’t really understand the concept,” he says.
His ego seems remarkably in check. Charlie knows his worth, yet – rare for a celebrity – does not whinge about fame, but simply makes the most of opportunities he has created for himself. He sometimes snapped at glamorous charity events on the Costa del Sol, but is as happy on red carpet as he is to cheer on the tribute acts at La Sala and Legends.
“I’m very permanently in Spain now and there are plenty of great singers on the Costas. I am just here to give them the right advice and point them in the right direction,” he laughs. “And has a good time.”
Nothing gets in the way of Charlie having fun, or – you sense – in the way of making millions.