WHEN Charlie Mullins invites you round for a cuppa the first thing you’re dying to do is visit the loo.
Who wouldn’t want to snoop inside the bathroom of Britain’s richest plumbing boss whose firm looks after the lavatories of the rich and famous: Dames Judy and Helen, Sir Richard Branson, Hugh Grant, Joanna Lumley (who also does his TV commercials).
And let me tell you, it doesn’t disappoint. Glossy white doors swing open to reveal a shimmering magenta temple of calm with monogrammed towels, a giant bathtub and rubber duckies.
There’s sparkling silver all over the villa, and acres of black, purple and grey; signed football shirts won at charity auctions line the walls; ornamental skeletons and glittering panthers artfully placed. Welcome to Casa de Charlie where the living is, well…spectacular … as befitting the 68-year-old majority shareholder of Pimlico Plumbers, net worth over £70million and counting..
Londoner Charlie made 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). Today his empire stretches from Lambeth to Marbella – not bad for a council estate lad who left school at 15 with no qualifications. This time next year he could even be London’s Mayor, having announced his candidacy as an Independent in the May 6 elections.
I find the plumbing Pasha reclining on a pristine white sunbed dressed head-to-toe Dolce and Gabbana – pink shorts, white branded tee; a blue signet ring emblazoned with a C glints on his pinkie. “Drink?” he asks. “I’ll have what you’re having.” “Double scotch, then?” he jokes. We settle for milky builder’s tea served in a latte glass. “My favourite,” beams the holder of the first OBE ever awarded for services to plumbing.
‘I bought this place for the kids 15 years ago,” he tells me as we move into the kitchen, more gleaming white surfaces, statues and glamour. He used to own the villa next door but sold it after his 40-year marriage to their mother ended.
Still raw from his second divorce (if I’d had a swig of scotch for every time he mentioned his two ex-wives, I’d be on the bathroom floor by now) family makes up for it – two sons, two daughters, the 10 grandchildren they’ve given him, and years of happy holiday memories.
“They love coming to Spain,” says Charlie, who’s totally smitten himself and has his eye on a sea view mansion in La Cala.
“I love La Sala and Legends,” he raves. “The entertainment here, you can’t beat it. I love heading out and watching all the tribute acts. Can you guess my favourite?” he grins, raking a hand through his spikey blonde-highlighted mane.
Yes, I tell him. (He could be a tribute act himself.) But it’s funny to think that with all his money and celebrity pals, he’d rather watch a Rod Stewart doppelganger over a pint with his buddies in Spain than live it large with the real deal in London.
“I’ve seen the real Rod, of course I have. But I have more friends in Spain than in the UK, I’m very at home here,” he says with feeling.
He even has his lawyers working on a way to get him dual citizenship so he can stay longer than three months in any six and ‘Bollocks to Brexit’ – to quote the slogan on the giant sign he put up on the company rooftop in Lambeth.
An ardent Bremainer and big Tory donor (as well as business advisor and plumber to David Cameron and George Osborne) he switched sides and poured millions into the Lib Dem campaign to stop Brexit.
Charlie courts controversy and limelight in equal measure. He’s starred on The Secret Millionaire, and is a regular fixture on Jeremy Vine and Good Morning Britain. “It’s just good business sense. I worked that out 30 odd years ago,” he says – though some of his business practices have been panned in the press: his ‘no jabs, no jobs’ dictat to anti-vaxxers on the payroll; letting go of 30 staff who didn’t return to work after their furlough payments ended; his extortionate £180-an-hour call-out fees, his mainly self-employed workforce and the way he keeps tabs on them via trackers fitted in the vans they have to rent from him.
Does he mind the backlash? “People get the wrong idea of me, they think I only do things for money but that’s not true. I just think people should work hard.”
The money’s still rolling in. “We’re up 20% from the good times,” he says brightly. “I’m not lying!” he adds, a phrase he often uses after saying something a bit smug.“I’m looking at expanding to Dubai now and business in Marbella is ticking over so mainly I come here to relax.”
Back in London, he’s been splurging more of those profits on an art deco pad on the Thames. ‘Right below Tom Jones’s penthouse’, he confides, where he takes cheeky pleasure blasting the Welshman’s greatest hits through the ceiling on his jukebox.
“And I’m not just saying this or that he couldn’t have my place, he could live anywhere he likes. But my balcony’s bigger than his. I’m not lying!”
From root valves to riches