How We Met: Matilda Temperley & Sam Roddick

'You can't have any barriers when you're running around in a gimp suit'
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The Independent Online

Matilda Temperley, 28, trained as a scientist and worked as a researcher in east Africa, where she was inspired to produce her first photographic project. She is now a full-time photographer working on both commercial and personal projects including a forthcoming book about Ethiopia. She lives in London and Somerset

I met Sam at an Oxfam dinner party organised by Annie Lennox. I'd heard all the stories about her – she is well known as an activist, so she has a reputation for being happy to say exactly what she thinks and, I suppose, as the woman behind an ethical sex shop, she's comfortable with shocking the mainstream.

There were a lot of strong personalities in the room, but she wasn't in the least afraid to butt in or ask questions. She is impressively eloquent and has that killer combination of passion and energy coupled with a great skill with language.

This was about two years ago and I had just moved back to the UK from Uganda. I was full of ideals and I remember being quite outspoken on the subject of Africa, but really I felt a little out of my depth there and I think Sam recognised that. She has a strong maternal streak and is very caring, so she took me under her wing as the new girl. What I'd heard about her sounded intimidating, but in person she is very kind and has that amazing kind of confidence which draws you to her.

After that, we bumped into each other at a few events and one day she called me to talk about doing some pictures for an exhibition at her shop. She has been an amazing mentor. After a chat with Sam, you feel anything is possible. She makes my doubts and insecurities seem silly.

I wouldn't say we're similar. I'm on the shy side, and I don't think that is an emotion that has ever occurred to Sam. But I find her energy infectious, even though I can't ever imagine being as busy as her. If she finds something interesting – and she has an interest in almost everything – she just gets involved. Her life moves at 100 miles an hour.

I'm not sure whether she feels a responsibility to carry on the kind of work that her mother did. I think it's more the case that it never occurred to her to do anything else. I don't know her sister but I get the impressions the Roddicks are all built from the same material.

Sometimes you can feel a bit bowled over and exhausted by Sam. But more often I find that she completely renews me.

Sam Roddick, 38, is the founder of erotic emporium Coco de Mer, selling clothes and sex toys made in consideration of human rights and the environment. The daughter of the late Body Shop founder Anita Roddick, she has campaigned on a range of social and environmental issues. She lives in London

I was in a room full of remarkable women when I met Tilly. It was at a dinner called The Circle, where a group of females from the top of their industries come together to talk about global change. Tilly was this spunky, energetic presence – she was the youngest at the table and her enthusiasm was mixed with a really nice innocence.

Sometimes those dinners can be stuffed with political correctness and everybody scrabbles around to find where everybody else lies politically, but she wasn't cautious in the slightest, which cracked me up. I love that brazen honesty, especially when it comes from a really good place. Her sister [the fashion designer] Alice was there and I could see her almost cringing as her little sister broke every social boundary.

I instantly liked her and chased her friendship. The first thing I invited her to was one of my art protests. We fully costume people up, so they tend to be really open – you can't have any barriers when you're running around in a gimp suit (not that Tilly was). She met some of my friends, became friends with them, and the circle got a bit wider. Around that time I saw a photograph of hers and thought it was fantastic, so I called her up about working on something together.

She told me about her plan to use her work for social and charitable purposes and I've tried to support her with it in every way since. She has the right energy to get things done, which is so important.

Tilly has an incredible sense of creativity that is inherent throughout the Temperley family. She and her two sisters are like the three graces. They all have this mixture of sophistication, quirkiness and down-to-earth realism. There's definitely a genetic Temperley brand that mixes all that earthy West Country family stuff – cider-making, farming and all that – with the glamour of the fashion and art world.

Tilly talks about them breaking into their grandmother's chests of antique lace and rummaging around to find inspiration for their own work, and I find the way they are so connected to their heritage lovely. They are all non-conformists, but in a non-confrontational and unpretentious way.

As an activist, I meet a lot of passionate people, but it's not every day that I am struck by what a good soul somebody is – Tilly is one of those people. I don't know if she would see it, but we are quite similar. We are both quite rough around the edges because we both have pure intentions, so the rules don't really matter. n

Temperley's exhibition documenting the British circus, supported by the UK Arts Council, is part of CircusFest at the Roundhouse (until 16 May roundhouse.org.uk). For Coco de Mer information go to coco-de-mer.com

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