Weekend Life Mag: The Big Interview - Anita Roddick: Rebel WITH A Cause; Anita Roddick Has Been the Public Face of the Body Shop for 25 Years - but Is It Time to Look for New Challenges? DIANE PARKES Reports
Byline: Diane Parkes
IT is a strange sensation interviewing Anita Roddick. She gives you her attention, is polite and animated and is quite open in what she says, but you do get the impression that her mind is really elsewhere and the interview is just one of the million things she needs to get done that day.
It is not surprising, after all Anita is the woman who brought The Body Shop from a single store in Brighton to a multi-million pound business with more than 1,700 stores across 49 different countries.
But it is a strange sensation. She speaks so fast your shorthand can hardly keep up and in half-an-hour she has put the world to rights and turned the retail business on its head.
Dressed in silk shirt and capri trousers, Anita Roddick is not your idea of a typical businesswoman and her idea of business is far from typical. While the company turns over vast profits, Anita believes its prime motive is to achieve something positive in the world.
We are meeting in a back room at the Body Shop in the Merry Hill Centre near Dudley. We have exactly half an hour but no sooner are we in than she starts rooting around in cupboards moaning she is hungry and needs some food.
'I am just going to see if there is any food I can take from these cupboards,' she tells the sales assistant in a chipper voice as she begins opening doors.
No doubt horrified at what her boss is about to discover, the unfortunate sales assistant dashes out to grab a bar of Divine fair-traded chocolate off the shelf and offer that instead.
So while she rips away at the wrappings and munches away, Anita explains how she feels about the company's 25th anniversary and what a nightmare she had finding Merry Hill.
Despite the fact that many of The Body Shop outlets are in such malls, Anita is the first to admit she is not their biggest fan.
'I like the experience of being in a town, the mess on the floor and the life of it,' she says. 'Malls are an American idea and we have managed to humanise them more than the Americans but they are not the same as a town.
'Where we have reached with The Body Shop is not really what I would have wanted when I first started up. I think if I had known back then how it would all turn out I would have slit my wrists.'
The story of how Anita set up the first Body Shop has been told hundreds of times but it still makes a fascinating anecdote. With her husband Gordon travelling the Americas, the middle-aged mum decided she needed to earn some money.
So she took over a little shop in Brighton, painted it bright green and started selling plastic refillable bottles of creams and lotions.
She says: 'At the time it was a livelihood. It was a way of gaining my freedom, that was what I wanted.
'We had gallons of products and put them into bottles with hand-written labels. We didn't have many products, we only had 20 different things, but we put everything in five different bottle sizes so it looked like we had more.
'We used green paint to cover the damp and mouldy walls and wooden fencing to cover it when we couldn't keep the damp out.
'We were a group of mates, all activists, and we were having a good time. I never dreamed of what would happen.'
The success of The Body Shop is down to a number of factors. The store was launched just at a time when consumers were using their buying power to pressurise companies for green products. The products went back to nature and actually did what they claimed to do.
Anita also became an icon for young women who saw her as a successful businesswoman who also had ethics.
But as the store has grown and become a feature of every high street it has had to try hard to maintain that corner shop feeling it had in the early days.
'We have lost the intimacy that it had to begin with,' admits Anita. …