BY TOBY PORTER
James Elmey didn’t want to be a plumber at first. He wanted to throw TVs out of hotel windows – or at least rock ‘n’ roll all over the world.
The name of one of his bands, The Hangovers, is a clue as to what might have been their downfall on the road to global domination.
But when he worked out living out of the back of a van and dossing on friends’ floors wasn’t going to pay the bills, he fell back on his dad’s trade.
One of the tips of his trade, though, has nothing to do with groupies, riffs, smashing speakers or how to cope if you are knee-deep in doo-doo. If you want to know how to unblock your drains, he says, don’t go to Facebook.
James has just been named Plumber of the Year, so he should know. “If you ask for help with a problem, someone will say as a joke ‘rub a potato on it and cover it in glitter’. “But if you go to Twitter, the manufacturer will get someone to call you.”
This kind of nous has helped James be named the London Plumber of the Year. So he’s flushed with success, as the tabloids like to say – even if it is a draining job.
“I was surprised because most of the winners in the past have worked for big companies,” he said.
But James is not about to try and build a porcelain-and-pipes empire on the back of it, or follow in the footsteps of Kennington’s Charlie ‘Pimlico Plumbers’ Mullins. Besides anything else, the Beckenham bathroom man’s heroes are Roger Daltrey and Pete Townsend of The Who.
“People assume you want to take on huge numbers of staff and become a millionaire,” said James, who has four cats. “But I prefer to do the work on my own. If I can’t take on a job, I won’t do it.
“It doesn’t bother me being covered in poo. I will have a week off with my wife now and again but it is not easy to fit in time off.”
James only went self employed in January of this year, after 10 years of working for other people as a plumber, and has been swamped with business in just nine months.
A lot of this is thanks to his Twitter profile – he’s got more than 4,000 followers.
He uses social media to get a lot of his clients. He’s also interesting in that he’s entirely paperless, and only uses his phone for business.
He uses various business apps such as the ‘pocket bookkeeper’ Albert – he invoices in front of the customer and, so he says, he gets paid “before his tools are even back in the van”, which means he never chases payment and can concentrate on getting more business in.
“I’m all for saving the planet but it is also about the client having the invoice in their inbox before I leave,” he said.
“That way, I do not lose time at home doing paperwork. My card machine sends receipts straight to their inbox, too. I don’t get callbacks – unless it’s clients asking for more work to be done.”
His hardest job was installing a £5,000 copper bath on the fourth floor of a house in Eltham. The instructions and dimensions he got were in Italian – and he had to hire a crane to get it in through a bay window.
That may be the closest he ever got to smashing windows with a TV. The 2018 competition saw hundreds of plumbers enter from all over the country, receiving a record number of applications.
The judges included the not very rock ‘n’ roll experts from JT, Bristan, Wolseley UK and WaterSafe.