Pimlico Plumbers was once described as a London institution and you were reported as saying that you would never sell the company, what changed your mind?
I guess I’m human, and I changed my mind. I’m incredibly proud of what I built from nothing at Pimlico Plumbers and I only hope that the new owners treat it with the respect it deserves. When I was running Pimlico it was a hugely successful operation, and I loved being CEO of my own creation, but I’ve only got one life and there’s a load of different things I want to do before I’m done. And being a full time boss or even the chairman as I was for the last few years wasn’t going to allow me the time to do them. People said I should step back, but I knew that while I was involved in any way I could never really step down. With me it’s all or nothing, so the only way to stop being the fulltime Pimlico Plumber was to sever all ties with the company by selling it.
Why did Covid-19 advance the fortunes of your company?
I don’t think Covid had much to do with advancing our fortunes at Pimlico. It was an obstacle to overcome that came from nowhere without warning. It hit us hard in early 2020 just like everyone else. The only difference was we didn’t spend the next 18-months moaning about things, we got on with the job. It meant change, making things safer, hundreds of thousands of masks, tankers full of sanitiser, and we started testing engineers and staff before the government even thought of free testing for businesses. Customers needed work done, and we made sure we were the best armed outfit to get the work done safely and well, which is what we’ve always done. All we did was adapt our premium service to suit the circumstances, just like we’ve always done.
We got a lot of press and yes, sold a lot of plumbing, but it wasn’t Covid that made us the best, Pimlico already had that title, we just proved it again!
You were known as the plumbers to the stars, how did you give your business its celebrated cache?
Again, we didn’t award ourselves that moniker and the cache that came with, that was other people. Do I like a nice suit and a celeb hang out? Totally! I’m 100% guilty of liking the limelight, and if people ask me what I think about things, I’m very happy to explain my views, be it down the pub or on Question Time, it’s all the same to me.
So why do I think we became the ‘plumbers to the stars’?
Certainly plenty of famous people called us up when they needed their bogs and drain unblocked, or the heating was on the blink, but I think that’s more because we would always turn up any time, day or night and work until the job was done.
Oh and maybe mentioning our more illustrious callers to our call centre to the odd journalist may have helped too I’d imagine. Let’s just say I never had a lot of trouble with stars complaining about being mentioned in the papers alongside Pimlico. And that’s because they’re like me (and Oscar Wilde) and know there’s only one thing worse than being in the papers . . . . .
So having sold the business, what‘s next? We understand that you have invested in the good news station – Great British Radio.
Now with Great British Radio, my involvement is all about addressing a problem real people face. These 24 hour news cycles do no good for our mood and the past six years have been all Brexit, then Covid and now the regrettable situation in Ukraine. With Mike Osman at the helm of Great British Radio we have a genuinely very funny man who knows how to tap into the public psyche and give them what they‘re lacking. We‘ve agreed we want to make people laugh every ten minutes instead of carrying any scheduled news bulletins. Celebrity guests will feature of course, but there‘s also power in interviewing ordinary people to help shine a new light on topics and help bring positivity and humour to our lives at a time where it‘s needed more than ever. Great guests, great music and a barrel of laughs. That‘s what Great British Radio will deliver, without the noise.
You are also supporting emerging British musical talent, who are you most excited about at the moment and how will you attract new talent?
The act I’m most excited about right now is a female singer called Rara, she’s fantastic. I discovered her when I was in Dubai at the beginning of 2021 and signed her for a gig I was putting together for my staff at Proud Cabaret in London. I was hugely impressed with her talent and then I heard she had written and recorded a charity song (Glitter) for a little girl who was battling cancer. She’s a class act in my book, and I think she’s really going places. Rara is currently working on her debut album and we’re working on the UK release and some recording and TV opportunities in LA and Nashville.
How will you spearhead this new business venture into success?
I’m not going to pretend to know all there is to know about the music industry, and what I have to add is more on the general business and motivational side. That, and I have the means and drive to back acts that I think have something, and the industry contacts to back up my enthusiasm and financial investment. I’m always going to be a business guy, that’s what I know and whether it’s the music industry or politics, or arguing with friends over dinner my strength is my ‘all in’ passion for whatever I’m doing and my dislike at losing.
Now that you have more time on your hands, will you resurrect your plans to become London Mayor in 2024?
I’m seriously thinking and looking at running. London deserves someone in City Hall who is passionate about the city, and I don’t feel that is the case with Sadiq Khan. He’s a career politician who seems too interested in how things look and how they will play out politically for him, above the interests of the people of our great capital. And yes I know Boris was also a career politician, but at least when he was mayor he stuck his neck out on behalf of Londoners against his own party.
Last year, I had to cancel plans to run for London Mayor, in part because of business commitments and I almost immediately regretted it. [Sadiq] Khan has done next-to-nothing for London except destroy the roads to score cheap political points. But I try to remind myself, I‘ve got to be 100 per cent on it and committed to be able to deliver on everything I want for the city. If I‘m still alive in two years time I‘m going to go for it.
What would you bring to London?
I do think that it’s about time London got a mayor for whom the job was not a stepping stone to something bigger, a Londoner, a non-politician and someone with common sense, not a focus group, deciding their policies and actions. If I did run, and win, and remember I don’t like losing, I would be the man in the street for the entire time I was in office. I’ve always been a fighter for the underdog, and after Brexit and Covid and the last decade I think London needs a champion to fight its corner, not tow one or other of the party lines. I would run on a ticket of free travel for apprentices, scrapping the congestion charge and taking another good, hard look at how cycle lanes affect the traffic flow and car accidents throughout London.
What causes are you passionate about?
Call me predictable but it’s like I was back in the 1960s when I was growing up. I had plenty of energy and ambition but wasn‘t born into circumstances where there was even the expectation of doing well, let alone the opportunities to even get on the right track. I can’t help them all but I’d like to be able to say I’ve given a few of them a leg-up when I can. I’ve come to enjoy a lot of privilege with my success, and sure, that’s as a result of hard work and making my own chances and taking them. But I see loads of kids like I was, and I can see huge potential if only someone would give them a hand, or even a few words of encouragement. I’m passionate about making opportunities available to young people who aren’t blessed with all the advantages of some of their peers, and sadly in modern Britain that’s still a big number.
You have been reported as saying that it’s important for business to support charities wherever possible as they make such a vital contribution to society, what causes have you supported and care most about?
Over the years Pimlico Plumbers has supported a number of very deserving charities; we helped renovate a youth club as a foundation member of a project called VIY (Volunteer it Yourself); and we were also a furiously passionate advocate of the Prince’s Trust and its work getting underprivileged young people into work. There was also a courageous little girl, Chloe from the Pimlico, who had cancer. She was so brave; I know that’s what you’re supposed to say, but she was. She fought it off time after time and we tried to help. She was part of our local community. I think businesses have an obligation to the communities that they trade within to put something back, and I think charity is a great way to fulfil that requirement. Some will pick a well-known charity and make a donation, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I think if they really get what it’s about they should pick something or someone they are linked to and passionate about, and do charity like they mean it, because they should.
Who or what inspires you?
Margaret Thatcher was elected as Prime Minister in 1979, the same year I started my company, Pimlico Plumbers, and she has always been and always will be my idol. For the first time people who spoke like me were encouraged to start their own business and make money, not just work for wages forever, living from week to week. I know the Iron Lady wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I worshipped her because she empowered working people like me with the belief that we could succeed in business and life. And that’s why when she died I had a picture of her put on the door of every Pimlico Plumbers van as a tribute.
What key business advice would you give to anyone running a business?
People always ask me how they should grow their businesses, which I’ve always thought is an odd and obvious question. I tell them ‘employ more people’. It always seemed like a very simple and logical answer to me. These days growing your business is called ‘scaling’ and there are entire books written about it. Maybe I’ll do one myself!? I’ve thought about why people ask such a seemingly obvious question and I think what it’s about is the fear of losing control. As a sole trader you only need to manage yourself, and when you start growing your business there’s all sorts of issues to be managed with the people you employ. You need to trust yourself and overcome the fear!
And finally, what’s on your bucket list?
– To go into space
– To get elected London mayor
– To own a beachfront villa in Dubai
Great British Radio is available on DAB+ in Herts, Beds, Bucks, North London, Surrey and South London and via radio player at greatbritishradio.org or download the app.
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