When Charlie Yates grows up, he wants to be a professional footballer, pilot, and F1 driver.
His love of vehicles stretches to his toybox too, as the eight-year-old currently has 751 Hot Wheels cars, as well as garages and tracks, a collection his parents reckon has cost them thousands over the years.
While most of these miniature cars are stored in boxes in the family’s home in Brownhills, Walsall, a Senna McLaren has pride of place in Charlie’s bedroom.
He received this model on a VIP tour of the supercar manufacturer’s headquarters, orchestrated by dad, Darren, when he wrote in explaining his son’s love of Hot Wheels.
And although Charlie loves to show off this prized possession, he doesn’t like to play favourites, saying ‘all 751’ are held in equal importance.
He also tends not to brag about his sizeable Hot Wheels haul, and has donated around 300 cars he no longer plays with to children at school who aren’t as fortunate.
‘They always say “let’s play cars, that’s the only thing we’re going to do”,’ says the young motoring fanatic, rolling his eyes at his friends’ awestruck reaction to the collection.
Charlie’s heroes are Captain Sully and Lewis Hamilton, but he clearly has a special bond with his dad.
After Darren began experiencing symptoms of arthritis, fibromyalgia, spinal disease and a spinal cyst called syringomyelia around a decade ago, his mobility was greatly impacted and he had to quit his 26-year career in marketing for the police force.
As well as taking 21 pills each day (including morphine) to manage his pain, he relies on the support of his wife Kat, sons Charlie and Liam, 21, and daughter, Emily, 20, who no longer lives at home.
The couple first met while both working for the police and got married in a cinema, telling their loved ones they were coming to watch a film in which they had cameo roles and surprising them with an impromptu wedding. They love to do ‘quirky’ things, and relish the memories of a time when pain didn’t control their lives.
‘It’s such a shame because each day, come about three o’clock, I have this wave of fatigue come over me,’ the dad tells Metro.co.uk, becoming emotional while talking about how life has changed since then.
‘It just wipes me out and I end up in bed for a few hours. So when Charlie comes home from school, often I’m asleep due to the fatigue – it’s really bad.’
Unfortunately, Darren’s conditions are incurable, but he does his best to manage symptoms day-to-day. His mental health has also been impacted, with bouts of severe anxiety sometimes preventing him leaving the house for weeks on end. Kat also suffered seven miscarriages after Charlie was born, which took a toll.
The family make do, however, and Liam will take his younger brother to the park or Kat will watch him as he whizzes around on his bike, while Darren is there for him in other ways.
‘Darren knows he’s got a limit and unfortunately that doesn’t allow very much of the physical side,’ says Kat. ‘Charlie understands.’
As the joker of the family, Charlie cheers his dad up when things get difficult, alongside providing hugs a-plenty and bringing him meals or drinks when he’s unable to move.
‘I can’t bend down on the floor with Charlie, but I like to watch him play with his cars,’ says Darren. ‘We also go to the airport and sit on the grass watching the planes take off.
‘Maybe I do try and offset the things he misses with the Hot Wheels and stuff – it’s just to show a bit of love really.’
When Darren lays awake at night due to the pain, he fills time by sending emails to those who may be interested in the story of his ‘little carer’.
‘They must think, “why has he sent this at 3am?”‘ he joked. ‘But that’s what I do, and then I look forward to then if I get a response the next. It sounds sad, but it’s for Charlie.’
After he contacted Hot Wheels about Charlie’s obsession with the toys earlier this year, the brand invited Charlie and his parents to Monster Trucks Live, where he met drivers and got to see the vehicles up close.
Explaining where it all began, Kat said: ‘He just wanted a car from the shop once, and then obviously people have bought him them for Christmas.
‘Now, every time we go into certain shops we have to buy one if there’s a new one that he doesn’t already have. The collection’s just gone from there really.’
It’s difficult to put an exact number on what they’ve spent on the toys since, but each Hot Wheels car retails for upwards of £1.69 new at Smyths (where they purchase most of them) with some priced at around £18.99 depending on rarity.
Then there’s the garages, which have set the family back between £40 and £100 a pop. Charlie has been gifted some or used birthday money for others, and they do scour charity shops for bargains, but the collection is worth thousands overall.
‘It’s just ridiculous really,’ said Kat. ‘But they last a long time, that’s the thing. So everything that he’s had he’s still got.’
It’s not the type of collection where the toys are kept hermetically sealed in their boxes in an effort to retain value, though. Charlie loves playing with his Hot Wheels, and ‘as soon as he gets them the box is ripped open.’
‘We have learned over the years though to open the boxes a bit more carefully, because if ever you want to pack them away you can put it all back in the box it keeps it all in one,’ Kat adds. ‘We have lots of boxes in the loft.’
Their plans for the future include growing the collection and creating a Hot Wheels room once Liam moves out.
Charlie has hopes of starting a YouTube channel too, as well as learning to drive as soon as he’s able.
A typical eight-year-old boy, he’s full of excitement about his passions, but his parents emphasise what a ‘heart of gold’ their youngest son has and how his cheeky chappy spirit has helped them through tough times.
Kat continues: ‘We’ve stuck together as a family, and when you think of the different things that we’ve got through together, actually we’ve not done a bad job to come out the other side.’
The Collectables is a Metro.co.uk original series where we spotlight collectors around the world and take a tour of their impressive collections.
We’ll witness standout pieces, get a glimpse of rare finds, and uncover more about what makes people start collecting in the first place.
Other pieces in the series to read:
Meet the woman with a 150-piece vintage bag collection
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