Yianni Charalambous is known throughout the Premier League as the go-to man for car customisation. In fact, his ‘Yiannimize’ business is now known the world over thanks to a huge online presence and subsequent TV series, but it’s fair to say the Londoner has had to work his way to the top…
Yianni, did you always have a passion for cars growing up?
I was car-mad. I was desperate to get behind the wheel at 17, just waiting, waiting, waiting. Any opportunity I had to drive before that, be it in a car park with my dad or sitting on his lap in the driver’s seat when I was much younger, I was there! I was obsessed with the Lamborghini Countach, the one famously pictured by the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. I’ve still got that picture at home.
And what was your first car?
Are you ready for this – a blue Ford Fiesta 1.1L. The L pretty much stood for loser because it was the lowest spec you could get on that car. It had wind-down windows, a grey cloth interior, the basic wheels, and as it was the MK2 shape, it had the bubble-front lights. I had wanted an XR2, but couldn’t afford it, so I put the XR2 touch on the back window. How embarrassing is that!
‘I was never great at school and worked everywhere: Marks and Spencer, Do It All, Office World, all sorts of retail jobs’
So tell us a bit about your background…
I was never great at school and worked everywhere: Marks and Spencer, Do It All, Office World, all sorts of retail jobs. I worked in Brent Cross for many years and learnt to deal with different people from many walks of life. I then went into recruitment in the City, with my big shirt, big tie, double cuffs, and was top dog for two or three years. I was doing really well, but ultimately I wanted to work for myself. I then had a hairdressers, even though I couldn’t cut hair; I had a phone shop; a car wash; a milkshake shop; lots of different businesses but in the background, I always had a passion for cars…
I was always tinkering with wheels, putting in different sound systems, alarms, and one day someone mentioned wrapping to me. I’d obviously seen something similar on the Sky TV vans [although that is a different process], and just thought to myself, ‘Why can’t I try something similar with a car? Why not change a white car to black?’ I outsourced at that point because I couldn’t wrap myself, but the business quickly took off and it just got bigger and bigger and bigger.
‘I’ve seen these guys on TV and from the stands, and now I’m standing in a car park chatting to them all. It was mad, surreal even‘
And so Yiannimize came into being – but how did it explode with Premier League footballers?
A girl I knew at the time introduced me to Bacary Sagna, who had just signed for Arsenal. We went out for dinner with him and his wife, to help them settle as they were new to the area and barely spoke any English. I had a Lambo at the time, a white Gallardo, he liked what I did to it.
He wanted something similar, so to cut a long story short, he took his wrapped car to the Arsenal training ground.
That same day, the phone rings and this deep voice says, ‘Yianni, come see me. William Gallas.’ As a Gooner myself, I’m being told to drive to London Colney; all of a sudden Bakary comes out and is followed by Gallas, Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere… and I’m totally starstruck! I’ve seen these guys on TV and from the stands, and now I’m standing in a car park chatting to them all. It was mad, surreal even.
And it inevitably caught the eye of the national media, right?
I took away Gallas’s SLR that day and once it was wrapped, I had to drive it to the Emirates Stadium as Arsenal were playing Blackburn that day. After the game, the paparazzi were waiting, as they do, and took a picture of him leaving in it. The headline to accompany the piece in the paper was ‘Arsenal’s chrome win’ and that was my Eureka moment. From then on everyone knew about me. I started getting calls from the Chelsea boys – John Terry, Didier Drogba – and it was one player after another. I went to JLS’s house and One Direction were there, so I got those boys; from there I get Gordon Ramsey, then James Corden calls. I became friends with them all, attending weddings, christenings, birthdays…. again, just so, so surreal.
If we fast forward to today, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is a famous client, right?
Auba loves his cars as everyone knows and I was just waiting for him to message me once he came to Arsenal – and he didn’t disappoint! I’ve done his Aventador chrome gold, his Urus the same colour; his wife’s Urus in chrome-pink, his Performante in a flip colour, and obviously we’ve done the LaFerrari, which was the internet breaker!
If a player reading this wants his car wrapped, how long does the process take and what’s on-trend at the moment?
We have a three-to-four month waiting list but we do hold back one VIP slot per week. If a player calls me, I can get them in within two or three weeks in one of those slots. The process is then a week to ten days. The most popular colour at the moment is matt black – that Batman stealth look, but people also like the satin dark grey. We also do interiors, such as the starlight roof-lining, which people will know from the Rolls Royce Wraith.
We’ve just done one for Steven Bergwijn. We also do wheels, body kits, interiors, sound systems, trackers and immobilisers Our ghost immobiliser is popular at the moment; it has a cut-off switch so even if someone takes your key, or scans the front of your door to get the code off your key, they still can’t start your car without our specific code.
You don’t wrap yourself, right?
People say, ‘You can’t even wrap!’ but what I say in return is, ‘Does Richard Branson fly his planes?’ I’m the boss; I’m there to promote the business, to network, to grow my brand. If I’m in the workshop all the time then who’s going to do that? If I wasn’t networking, the business wouldn’t have grown as it has done – and then there’s the social media aspect that I’ve built up. Instagram has been the best thing ever; as it’s so visual, I’ve got 1.2m followers, plus another 1.8m on YouTube. Some players want me to put their cars on our socials, like Auba, who is so out there, whereas others do not – and we respect that.
You’ve famously had your own series on TV – how exciting was that?
I got the TV gig on the back of my YouTube channel, so I’d already been in front of a camera which helped. You can learn a lot from YouTube, and if you carry yourself well in front of a camera, know what you’re talking about and have a passion for it, you’ll come across far more naturally. If you try and blag it, people will see through you in two seconds.
I love cars, I love talking to people and being out and about, so it was all good. I was a nobody really at the time, but got 20 episodes and was then given another series of 20. I took it all in my stride but remember my agent saying an unknown person would have been lucky to get four episodes and I got two series! It’s shown all over the world and it amazes me when people get in contact on my socials and tell me the places where they have watched it from!
So what’s next for you?
There are a few things in the pipeline which I’m working on and which will arrive in due course. I’m really excited
for the future but I never get too far ahead of myself either; I know where I’ve come from and will always stay grounded as a result. But I’m proof that if you are passionate about something, then go and chase your dreams. We only get one life to remember, so it’s important you make the most of it!