From Littlehampton to the Amazon Basin: How the Queen of Green's dream ended in a nightmare

Anita Roddick is out but not down after giving up her top job, reports Glenda Cooper
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The Independent Online
THERE can scarcely be a bathroom in the land without a distinctively- labelled bottle of peppermint foot lotion, white musk perfume or dewberry face cream.

This is mainly down to one woman - the Queen of Green - Anita Roddick who opened the first branch of the Body Shop 22 years ago in Littlehampton.

Yesterday she flew in from Atlanta - where she had launched a human rights initiative with the Dalai Lama - to announce she was stepping down from being chief executive to become co-chairman.

Her actions yesterday sum up the successes and problems that have haunted the Body Shop.

The company's "ethical" stance, campaign against animal testing and Roddick's high profile meant that by 1991 shares in the Body Shop had hit a peak of 350p making her the fourth richest woman in Britain.

At the same time, Roddick's passions and desire to commune with native tribes sat uncomfortably with the City and shareholders who were more keen on seeing a good return on their investment.

From the beginning, the shops were never just a place where you bought bubblebath, but a breeding ground of activism which appealed to idealistic teenagers.

"We succeeded because we ran the business as a counter-culture," said Roddick yesterday.

"We were passionate and we didn't know enough to make it more complicated than good products and campaigning." Instead of posters selling visions of beauty, there were leaflets telling you how to save the rain forest. Roddick went on missions to find ingredients from indigenous tribes and introduced Trade Not Aid. The campaign against animal testing gathered 4.5 million signatures. However, say retail experts, there was more to it than Roddick's passions.

"The Body Shop would never have succeeded if it had just been a "green" company," said Richard Perks, senior retail analyst at Verdict.

"It combined quality and value for money and that is why it secured a loyal following. Anita Roddick used that success to pursue her own interests and passions."

Anita Roddick was born in Littlehampton, East Sussex in 1942, the daughter of Italian Jewish immigrants who sent her to a Catholic convent. Her father died when she was 10 and it was only then that she found out her real father was his cousin, who her mother married soon after.

She trained as an English and History teacher before varied spells working for the International Herald Tribune and the International Labour Organisation. While at college she met her husband Gordon, a case of love at first sight ("We just knew ... Our courtship lasted about four and a half minutes.") and they married in America in 1970 after the birth of Justine, their first daughter, who now works for the company. The couple had another daughter, Lucy, and moved back to Littlehampton where they ran a bed-and- breakfast and a restaurant before opening the first Body Shop, which was painted green inside to hide damp patches on the walls

Twenty-two years on there are now more than 1,600 Body Shop branches and Roddick is one of Britain's best-known entrepreneurs, often seen as a female version of Richard Branson, presenting a caring face of capitalism.

She publicly took on Shell about the plight of the Ogoni people in Nigeria and was one of the organisers of the United Nations' 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing. Nearer to home she and her husband helped set up and finance the Big Issue, written and sold by homeless people.

She is one of New Labour's business favourites and a regular visitor to Downing Street. But she has also faced criticism over her attitudes, as well as over her business methods, things she says she finds "incredibly painful".

She was one of the richest women in Britain, worth around pounds 57m, owns a turreted house in Scotland as well as homes in Sussex and California, yet she claimed not to be interested in extravagance.

She has had to fight several times to demonstrate the truth of the "green" claims made for her products.

In 1994 she won a libel case against Channel 4 after it claimed that some Body Shop cosmetics contained animal products, in contravention of the company's "Against Animal Testing" slogan. But the shares could not sustain their 1991 high and sales never really took off in America.

In late 1995, news leaked that the Roddicks had planned to take the Body Shop back into private ownership in a deal that would have valued the company at around pounds 340m.

But they abandoned the plans after struggling to raise the finance amid concerns about debt levels.Despite these problems, Roddick kept her high profile, most recently launching the controversial "hemp" range for the Body Shop.

"I'm not giving up anything," she said defiantly yesterday in her new role as co-chairman.

"All this talk about my demise is ludicrous. I'm going to be working hard on marketing and product development, we have an incredible team. "The thought of sitting back cosily - dream on. I'm going to be just as involved with the DNA of the Body Shop."

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