Our mother is giving away £51m and we really don't mind

The Body Shop founder has joined a select band of super-rich people who are casting aside their wealth. Anthony Barnes finds out how the family feel
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The begging letters have already begun to pour in. Those vying for a slice of the £51m "ethical" fortune have so far included requests to invest in a caravan park, a rugby team and a golf course.

"Anyone who knows anything about my mother would know those were just the worst things you could ever ask her for help with," laughs Anita Roddick's younger daughter, Sam. "Golf - that's the game you play just before you die," Anita herself concurs.

What prompted the flurry of post was last week's remarkable decision by the Body Shop founder to dispose of her wealth to a string of good causes before she dies. Instead of a huge financial cushion to pay for a life of luxury, beach-front homes and yachts in the Caribbean, her children - and three grandchildren - have kissed goodbye to their inheritance.

So how does it feel to miss out on the millions? Speaking exclusively to The Independent on Sunday for the first time since Anita's announcement, her thirtysomething daughters Sam and Justine seem jovially unfazed by the prospect of saying goodbye to the cash.

They are even encouraging of the plans by the mum they worship.

"We're both very happy for her to do what she likes with her money," says Justine. Anita, it transpires, had not discussed the plans with her children, but they have come as no surprise. In fact, she told the IoS that she has never made a secret of her desire to give it all away. "I've no intention of dying rich and that's not new to anybody.

"It's just my own choice. It's not a moral choice, it's my choice," said Roddick, 63, who set up her first Body Shop in the warren of Brighton's cobbled streets, the Lanes, in 1976. It has expanded into a network of nearly 2,000 shops with a customer base of 77 million.

"She hasn't sat us down and said, 'right, I'm giving all my money to charity', and equally it's rather an awkward thing to think about your parents dying," says Sam. "I don't really discuss what they do with their money. It's not really any of my business.

"I'm very close to my mother and I don't really want to think about what happens when she has gone. My parents have unarguably been massively supportive to me and to my sister.

"My mum's antics are my mum's antics and it's quite an interesting notion - good for her. She has had the most amazing letters since this all came out. It would almost make a good basis for a book; one of those things where they compile all this ridiculous correspondence: Everybody Is Asking Me for Something by Anita Roddick."

Caravans, golf and rugby will stand no chance of a handout. Unsurprisingly for a woman whose business empire has given her a voice in more weighty issues such as fair trade, animal rights, campaigns for political prisoners and protecting endangered species, her preferred beneficiaries include groups championing human rights and global justice.

The Body Shop empire, built on sales of items such as strawberry-scented glycerine soaps, banana conditioner and coconut body butter, was a family affair from the start.

Justine and Sam, who were brought up in Littlehampton, Sussex, were at their mother's side when she first headed into a bank to ask for a £4,000 loan to start the business. She was at first refused, but swapping her Bob Dylan T-shirt for a suit and returning to the bank without children in tow did the trick.

As youngsters, the two girls would help out, sticking on hand-written labels, screwing lids on the recycled bottles and tidying shelves - working for their pocket money to instil a sense of monetary worth. From the start, the company set itself apart with its right-on stance against animal testing and using natural ingredients.

The business became all-consuming. While other children might expect a family holiday to the Costa del Sol, Sam and Justine would find their holidays were timed to fit in meetings with new Body Shop franchisees, hunting out new products or making a site visit to a fair-trade project.

While the girls have built the ethical standpoints into their own lives, the impact of the business on the family's wealth has not always been so easy to square.

"I have had a massive journey coming to terms with money. It is something to be enjoyed and respected - but for many years I did rebel against it," says Sam, 34, who now has her own business, the upmarket erotic boutique Coco De Mer. "I'm very conscious that I've been massively privileged. To put it into perspective, we've never been brought up to treat money as our first concern.

"There was this strange juxtaposition between not being able to handle having all this money and being so proud of what [my parents] achieved. I was becoming so fractious about it, it started making me unhappy. Eventually I just ran away to Canada and started to live a very frugal life where people didn't know who I was."

She worked on environmental projects and eventually met her husband Kunja, a drummer, to whom she has been married for eight years. It was while pregnant with their child Osha that her attitude towards the family wealth softened.

"In some ways being pregnant really affected the way I look at my life. It grounded me. At the end of the day I realised life is there to be enjoyed and I became less hung up about it.

"It made me think this is what I do and this is what I contribute to society. One of the things I really love is delicious food and that costs money, and I love my books - I've got an amazing library - and they are really expensive. There are certain things of real value, and I am not ashamed of valuing them."

Anita has said her money will be put into a charitable foundation. "Donations will be made to groups and individuals that show leadership in the areas of global justice, human rights, environmental action and grassroots organising. "But we won't be accepting unsolicited requests," she has said.

Anita will not be setting the foundation up imminently - it will be done when she sells her shares, and she feels they are undervalued at present.

Sam was launching her own charity drive last week, raising money for Aids causes. Just doors away from her Covent Garden shop, she has temporarily opened a kinky, adults-only Santa's grotto where burlesque performers in Night Porter-esque uniforms tease blindfolded punters.

It is very much in the spirit of her business, which, as well as selling lingerie, artful sex toys, eco-bondage gear and whips made from human hair, also provides lessons in striptease, spanking and home-made erotic movies. While she may not have her mother's fortune to rely on in years to come, she still has her parents to thank for backing her company financially.

"Mum has helped so much. She is the reason this business has happened for me, as well as my father, of course. The time, the energy she has given me. She and my dad invested in the company, they had faith, and I am now slowly buying them out."

Sam has no plans to follow her parents' example and open a chain. "I'm only planning to open three shops. I've been offered to go into every department store but I am not interested in doing that. I want to create something special - I don't want to be in every high street in Britain."

Justine, a 36-year-old mother of two who worked for the Body Shop for many years, is now based in California but was in London last week visiting her sister's shop and grotto.

She and Sam point out that whatever the fate of their mother's fortune, there is not much prospect of the family being left destitute. Their father Gordon has not given any hints to them as to whether he plans to part with his share of the business in the same way, so there is an assumption that it will be retained. "And after all, we're both daddy's girls," Justine jokes.

CELEBRITY BIG GIVERS

£5bn BILL GATES

The billionaire founder of Microsoft gave £145m of his own money to tackle malaria earlier this year - but in the grand scheme of his giving that is a drop in the ocean. His charitable foundation has given away more than £5bn to date, half of it to global health work.

£30m ELTON JOHN

Set up the charity Elton John Aids in 1992 and said that future royalties from his singles would go to his causes. The foundation has so far distributed more than £30m to HIV and Aids prevention. Raised more than £1m with a series of charity sales of his old clothes.

£3.6m DAVID GILMOUR

The former Pink Floyd frontman has been making donations to Crisis, the homelessness charity, for many years. In 2003, he sold a house for £3.6m and donated the entire proceeds to the charity to set up a low-cost housing centre.

£85m OPRAH WINFREY

Talkshow host and media mogul Winfrey is estimated to have given £85m to charity. Much of her work is focused on education, providing scholarships for those with no money in the US, but she has also helped in countries such as South Africa.

Comments