Secretary Lesley Pilbeam has put a spanner in the works of male chauvinism after a run-in with a sexist plumber.

She cut off her long nails, put on a boiler suit and now she is wrenching customers away from the men who dominate the industry.

Mrs Pilbeam, a mother with a passion for opera singing and amateur dramatics, has given up her successful career as a secretary and PA and is earning a living as a plumber.

With three children, a glamorous hobby and keep-fit classes, it is a mystery how Mrs Pilbeam manages to squeeze in her day job.

After Easter, she will launch plumbing firm Pilbeam and Reid with business partner and friend Scott Reid.

Her new career began when she called a plumber who fitted the old-fashioned stereotype - a bloke with a spanner who thinks a woman could not have a clue about plumbing.

Mrs Pilbeam, of Beaconsfield Road, Bexhill, said: "He overcharged me, treated me like I didn't know anything and left a mess in my house. I thought, 'I could do better than this'."

Having spent five happy years as PA to Julie Walker, principal of Hastings College, she decided it was time for a change of direction.

Supported by husband Stuart, a landscape gardener and builder, Mrs Pilbeam plucked up courage to apply for a two-year plumbing course at the college.

Stepping back into the classroom with a group of teenage boys was daunting.

She said: "They didn't speak to me at first but they're fine now and really good fun. Most of them were 16 when they started but they're young men now."

As the course progressed, Mrs Pilbeam began part-time work doing plumbing jobs for friends and colleagues.

With her growing confidence came the realisation she could make a serious living from her newly acquired skills.

She teamed up with Mr Reid and dropped her day job hours to part-time, devoting half of her working week to plumbing jobs.

Her family have supported her all the way.

Mrs Pilbeam said: "My son was a bit sceptical at first but when he sees me coming home tired and dirty he knows I've been working and he told me he was proud of me."

She officially finishes the NVQ qualification around Easter and is keen to get on with the job.

She knows she may come up against unwelcome attitudes as a woman plumber but takes it all in her stride.

Mrs Pilbeam said: "I know I'm going to come across that sort of thing but I'm not going to work for people like that because they're not going to want to ring me.

"It's one of the reasons I have gone into partnership but I really don't want to play on the fact I'm a woman.

"The only thing that mentions it in our advertising is that it says 'Mrs' in front of my name."

With a new business, NVQ to finish and household to run, Mrs Pilbeam still finds time to indulge her passion of singing and acting.

She appeared at the Eastbourne Music Festival earlier this year and will soon perform at the Hastings event.

She has sung with various amateur dramatic groups in more than 40 operatic and musical productions, including Guys And Dolls and Kiss Me Kate .

She said: "You do get some funny attitudes from people working as a female plumber but you must not let that bother you. Things are changing very quickly and the vast majority of people I meet are positive."