A day in the life of...Dame Anita Roddick

Founder of The Body Shop: The journey goes on as Body Shop campaigner sells up to L'Oreal
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The Independent Online

Dame Anita Roddick and her husband Gordon are woken in the small hours by the sound of thunder. They wonder if it is the end of the world.

In a way, it is. She has just sold her baby, The Body Shop, to the French cosmetics giant L'Oreal for £652m in hard, cold, cash.

Today, she has to explain herself. If Roddick is even remotely embarrassed by this deal, which she knows some are going to see as the greatest sell-out of all time, it isn't showing.

The Roddicks get £130m for their stake in The Body Shop, a stash of cash that might abash even the widest City operator.

Instead, she feels grateful, describing the deal as the best 30th anniversary present The Body Shop could have received. She phones franchise owners in Australia with a simple message: Thank you.


In Roddick's eyes, she is protecting the business for the thousands of staff the world over who have made the company what it is. If there is an element of compromise, then that's life. "At my age, I am grateful for an approximate solution," is how she puts it.

Roddick has fought a thousand battles and won many of them, all the while being sniped at by people who have never done anything for anyone else in their entire lives.

Because she isn't a completely selfish person, those that are dare to call her a hypocrite for making some money, even when it is clear she has not the first clue how to spend it. At least, not on herself.

"I feel very comfortable. We protected the company from the corporate wankers who would just come along and strip the assets. L'Oreal is willing to change. Their bigness doesn't bother me," she says.

Over the inevitable muesli and what she describes as "rancid milk", Roddick prepares for the day ahead. She watches the news and is slightly alarmed, slightly disappointed, at how much of it is about her.


She leaves her London flat to head to the swanky Great Eastern hotel next to Liverpool Street station where hordes of journalists wait to pounce.

Her attempt to avoid the Fleet Street rottweilers, the kind of people who would sell their soul for a story if they hadn't already done so, is foiled by her failure to find the right room.

"It is a cavernous place. I got lost and ended up in the clutches of some journalists," she says.

If the hacks thought they could ruffle her, they would have been disappointed. Ask her a rude question and she'll be rude right back. It isn't that she is combative, she's just been around, and she's heard all that jazz before.

When she finally finds L'Oreal chairman Sir Lindsay Owen-Jones, she is reminded of how much she likes him and of why the deal happened.

"My experience of business is that it is always war and sport. Usually there is something really bad mannered about all those meetings you have to have. Everybody is working their Blackberry, looking after somebody else rather than talking to you. There is something quite different about L'Oreal, a sense of courteousness," says Roddick.

The news of the deal was all over one of that morning's papers, with few details missed. How did that work, she asks? Did the PR company leak it? Do they get money, or a favour some other time? She is curious rather than angry. Today is a happy day.


The news conference is tedious and unnecessarily macho. Journalists compete to ask the most pointlessly aggressive question. L'Oreal is defending itself. And Dame Anita Roddick is bored.

To try to humanise the situation she starts talking about how seductive France is. She shifts into a discussion of how door-to-door perfume selling can be an antidote to loneliness in society.

She thinks the Avon ladies, though that isn't what she calls them, are a fantastic network of women supporting each other, looking out for each other. If their customers are suffering abuse at home, the Avon ladies know it, she says.

Suddenly, Roddick is enjoying herself.


The conference closes and she says goodbye to the L'Oreal folk. "There is a lot of kissing, which is exactly how it should be. Lindsay is treated like royalty by his own group. There is a sense of respect bordering on reverence," she says. Roddick walks out of the building, a free woman with £130m in the bank. What now? If she were a different person, if she were like us, she'd buy a Porsche and get drunk.

Instead, she heads to Oxford Street to visit a Body Shop. "I wanted to practise feeling differently. Everything has changed, you know, I'm in another state of reality. I was talking to the staff and customers, trying to explain what we'd done."


Roddick picks up the Evening Standard to discover that she is all over the front page, because of the money. "It is so damned boring. Why is there no other measure of success? Why isn't it about how we changed the law on animal testing? Why do economic values supersede everything else?"


She rings her 92-year-old mother, who lives in sheltered accommodation in Littlehampton.

Her mother has recently made the request that when she dies her ashes should be put into a firework and exploded into the sky. Roddick has been Googling furiously to try to find a company that can oblige. Is blowing up your mother's ashes ethically sound? Is it bad for the ozone? Perhaps, but this is one indulgence she may be allowed.

Roddick's mother is clearly a scream, having recently been rumbled as the person responsible for continually putting chilli into the other residents' tea, just for a laugh.


Those of us not entirely convinced that you can change the world and sell your company to L'Oreal are getting short shrift. Roddick thinks that The Body Shop will change L'Oreal, rather than the other way round. "It is a Trojan horse," she says.

L'Oreal is talking about embracing community trading, and promises to let The Body Shop be itself - in Roddick's vision, a moral network of shops doing the right thing.

If a gigantic corporation like L'Oreal really does start behaving this way, it would be a big win for Roddick and her admirers. "It will put all those Make Poverty History bracelets to shame, won't it?" she says.


Back at home, Roddick is waiting for her daughter to arrive with the grandchildren. They are going for a meal out and Roddick is definitely picking up the cheque. If the family are expecting lavish exuberance, they should know better.

At Pizza Express, Gordon allows himself a glass of wine. Roddick doesn't drink. Not even today. They are going to splash out on a new car (hybrid, of course) but most of the rest of the money will be given away.

She is, she says, in the process of "allocating the money". However cynically you approach a conversation with Roddick, it is hard not to come out the other end liking her. "Does your editor still smoke?" she asks, genuinely concerned.


The family are at home, "doing what families do," says Roddick. She is back to work, trying to secure the release of the so-called Angola Three, Black Panther prisoners who have been in solitary confinement for 34 years after convictions - false, she insists - for murder and robbery. (Read all about it at anitaroddick.com).

"The Black Panthers are great community organisers. After the Katrina disaster they did what the US government wouldn't. They helped. They organised."

Roddick will now have more time for this kind of thing, although she remains a consultant to the company she started in Brighton all those years ago.

There is simply no time to be wistful. "It is not a completion, it is a journey," she says. "I sound like a hippy, don't I?"