Britain's prince of plumbing Charlie Mullins comes to Dubai – and no drains are safe
With his Bentley Bentayga and bleached white teeth, London's millionaire tradesman is tailor made for his new home
Personalised number plates often reek of braggarts desperate to gloat about their wealth.
But for millionaire plumber Charlie Mullins, it is all just a bit of toilet humour.
Take a trip around the city of London and you’re bound to see one of his Pimlico Plumber vans branded with "bog 1", "loo 2 wet" and "flush".
While they often make passers-by crack up, the unique letters and digits are no laughing matter.
With 250 company vans on the road, his plumbing-themed number plates are worth more than £1.5 million ($2.08m) – and Charlie himself, about £70 million.
The eccentric businessman, known for his bleached-blond hair and blinding white smile, has crossed the pond to Dubai to turn a pipe dream into reality.
Sitting in his Dh4,000-a-night, ocean-facing suite in one of Dubai’s most exclusive hotels, the man known as Britain’s richest plumber spoke to The National about life as a millionaire tradesman and why he has set his sights on the Middle East for his next business venture.
“Look, if you want a quality suit you go to Savile Row,” he said, while buttering some toast from the dining room of his sun-drenched suite.
“In plumbing, the cheapest job always turns out to be the dearest job. We don’t do cheap.
“All you have to do is look around and see that people here live the good life, they like quality and I will bring that quality to them.”
Bunking off school at 11
Dressed in a bright pink polo shirt and white chino shorts, Mr Mullins ticks all the boxes when it comes to the classic rags-to-riches tale.
The north Londoner, born and raised on a council estate in Camden, started bunking off school at the age of 11 to dig up lead pipes from his neighbours’ gardens.
Helping out a local plumber, Mr Mullins, now 68, would “pocket two bob a day and get a free meal” for his labour.
“I picked up the plumbing gig from an old fella that used to live in my area,” he said.
“He had nice clothes, a decent car and went on sunshine holidays every year. I was in awe of him.
“I remember him telling me if I went into plumbing I’d never be out of work. That’s when the seed was sown.
“If he was a bank robber maybe I would have become a bank robber, that’s how much the guy inspired me.”
At the age of 15, Charlie took up a plumbing apprenticeship. Within 10 years, in the late 1970s, he started running his own business from a dingy basement in Pimlico, west London.
Morris Minor to Bentley Bentayga
Today, he heads his empire from a 3,500-square-metre headquarters in the centre of England’s capital.
“At that time plumbers had a bad name,” he said.
“They’d turn up to jobs in a rusty van with their bums hanging out of their trousers and they’d never finish a job. I quickly caught on to that and did the opposite.
“I’d turn up on time in a nice van, a smart set of overalls and get the job done then and there.
“I set out to change the image of plumbers and I succeeded. Who would have thought you could be a millionaire plumber? I didn’t, but here I am.”
Over the years, Mr Mullins became something of a local celebrity on the UK circuit.
His years spent getting elbow deep in the plumbing trade ended up catching the eye of Britain’s most elite – the royal family – and in 2014 he was awarded an OBE in the New Year’s honours list.
He has been regularly snapped with big name politicians including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and makes no secret of flaunting his wealth in public.
Still clubbing aged 68
He spends hundreds of thousands of pounds a year on cars and holidays, including £300,000 jetting off to Dubai and Marbella, among other sunny hot spots, several times a year.
While his transit vans helped to garner his millions, Mr Mullins's personal fleet of vehicles included a Bentley Mulsanne and Bentley Bentayga – a far cry from the banged-up Morris Minor van he started out in back in the 1970s.
Modesty is not a trait he does well, but he makes no apologies for that. The old adage, work hard, play hard, is a motto he lives by.
On the day The National visits, he is having a “late breakfast” at 2pm after a late night before.
The twice-divorced and now single father of four, has been flying back and forth to Dubai for more than two decades, but says he is still a sucker for the nightlife.
Five star restaurants and exclusive beach clubs are where he spends most of his time when not talking business with his wealthy expat friends.
Dubai plumbing 'bit shoddy' in parts
Since landing in Dubai in December, he has racked up a hotel bill in excess of Dh240,000 ($65,350). Asked whether he has thought about renting an apartment instead, he shakes his head; he could not do without the pool, beach and daily turn-down service.
The plumbing boss has a bulging property portfolio too, which includes a £10 million three-bedroom penthouse in Millbank, London, a luxury villa in Marbella, Spain, and a six-bed mansion in Essex, which recently went on the market for more than £4.5 million.
Now, he is on the lookout for another home in Dubai.
“When I do set up my business here, it won’t be a permanent home but I’d definitely fancy myself a villa on the Palm Jumeirah, 100 per cent.
“The property there is right up my alley and I love the beach. I think you even get your own private stretch of beach.
“The social life is second to none out here and it’s a big step up from the drain of London.”
Despite the pandemic, Pimlico Plumbers has done well over the past year. Business is up 15 per cent and that has a lot to do with his company’s hefty call-out rate of £105 per hour, rising to £200 for unsociable-hour emergencies.
Mr Mullins, a firm UK remainer who was vocal in his opposition to Brexit, said he had been eyeing up the idea of setting up a Pimlico Plumbers outlet in Dubai for years and now was as good a time as any.
“I am playing it smart and taking my time because of the pandemic, but I’m very serious about this,” he said.
“Dubai is great but some of the plumbing workmanship I’ve seen in buildings is a bit shoddy.
“I know I could fill that gap for people willing to spend a bit more for a quality outcome.
“I will bring British trained and qualified plumbers out here but I won’t charge London prices, it will be less.
“If I’m being very honest, I wish I tapped into the Dubai market 15 years ago. I didn’t and I’m gutted.”
With a large British expat community in Dubai that is “familiar with his name”, Mr Mullins thinks he could establish a “great customer base really quickly”.
And if all goes to plan, he will be up and running before the end of the year.
“I even heard they’re bringing the famous black taxis of London out here soon, now if that’s not the perfect platform to advertise the business I don’t know what is.”
Updated: March 17, 2021 02:49 PM