Anita Roddick: A great heart in a tiny frame
By Elspeth Thompson
Last Updated: 2:29am BST 17/09/2007
Dame Anita Roddick - environmentalist, human rights campaigner and founder of The Body Shop - died suddenly last week, aged 64. At her Sussex home shortly before her death, she gave this poignant interview to Elspeth Thompson, looking back over an eventful life and discussing her plans for the future.
What struck me first was how small she was. That famous untamed mane of hair, not to mention her outspoken views and public persona, had led me to think of Anita Roddick as a tall, even Amazonian presence - yet the woman walking to meet me was only just over five feet, with a tiny, bird-like frame. And I hadn't expected her kindness.
I'd driven down to her house, in West Sussex, from London on a hot, muggy day, with a friend, my small daughter and dog in tow - they were to drop me off and meet up later.
But the dog slipped out of the car and began barking at a huge bronze sculpture of a man at the top of the drive.
Clearly amused, Anita insisted we all stay, poured cool drinks for everyone (including the dog) and whispered to my three-year-old: "Do you like toys? I've got a great big box of toys that my grandchildren like to play with."
Only when the toy chest had been located did our interview begin.
I'd heard Roddick could be prickly with reporters - after selling The Body Shop to L'Oreal for £652 million, last year, she was accused of betraying all she had stood for.
But, instead, she seemed chatty and relaxed, leading me through the cavernous house and the 12-acre grounds.
Bought in 1999, gutted and restructured on a spectacular scale, it is just a few miles from Littlehampton, where she was born and set up the first Body Shop in 1976 with a £4,000 bank loan secured by a friend.
There was no obvious sign of the debilitating hepatitis C, contracted from a post-natal blood transfusion but diagnosed 35 years later - her celebrated energy seemed undiminished as we toured the garden.
After her death, her daughter, Sam, compared her to "a hurricane, a tornado - a weather system that reached every horizon and every corner of the world", and remembering how her conversation swooped from politics to education to the meditative benefits of weeding, it seems an apt analogy.
Roddick's mother had died, at 94, days before, and we discussed her wake: "It was always her wish to be sent into orbit to music, so somehow I'm going to get her ashes incorporated into fireworks. It will be an amazing party. She'd love it."
I imagined Roddick as a feisty nonagenarian herself, trundling up to Number 10 in a wheelchair to protest against nuclear weapons, or hanging out with the elders of rainforest tribes.
In spite of the public attacks on her integrity, Roddick was clearly enjoying the post-business phase of her life: indeed, the house and garden were planned around it.
"I'd told the designer to make my previous garden look and feel like a 40-year-old woman - ripe and vital, in full glorious bloom but just about to drop," she told me.
"Because that was me then, raising children, being creative, incredibly busy. But when we moved here, nine years ago, my life had changed.
"The children had grown up and gone, my work was taking a different direction. This time I wanted a peaceful, open place where we could host the family, our friends, have parties, ceremonies, big business meetings."
There had already been many parties, including her daughter's wedding, in a big barn constructed for the purpose, with organic champagne from her husband's vineyard.
"We get 1,500 bottles a year, and as all the endless regulations mean we can't sell it, we drink it ourselves and give it away - believe me, it goes extremely fast."
As we walked, we encountered sculptures, from huge, expensive bronzes to smaller pieces by local artists. Some reminded Roddick of stories from her life.
A crowd of life-size figures emerging from the trees conjured up the silent party that greeted her off the plane when she went to Nigeria in support of the Ogoni people against Shell, while teepee-like shapes brought back visits to Native Americans.
There was also a hilarious tale about her attempt, aged 49, to try for a "rainforest baby" in the middle of the Amazon.
"A medicine man fed me special herbs and placed leaves on my womb and the women of the tribe led me out to sit alone in a river for hours and hours drinking a tea made from the bark of a tree," she said.
Nothing came of it, but she said she enjoyed the experience: "What struck me as I sat there was all the millions and millions of different shades of green all around me - in the trees, in the water, in the plants, everywhere. I've never forgotten it."
She had not travelled so much lately, although she shot rapids in the Yukon, a month before she died.
Back inside the house, she had been busy archiving, and took me down to the basement, which is lined with photographs of her, smiling, wild-haired, trying out beauty products with indigenous women around the world.
Stacks of the many books published through her new company, Anita Roddick Publications, were piled high on makeshift shelves.
'Though I've stepped down from the business side of things, the campaigning work is stronger than ever, via the books and my website, where I post a new dispatch each week," she said.
"I'm always looking out for grassroots leaders doing remarkable things and seeking to give them the support they need. The Body Shop was an amazing network for spreading the word but, as I've grown older, I've become even more radical and passionate.
"I need a broader, freer space than the corporate umbrella could provide. I'm keen on helping causes such as the Angola Three [former members of the Black Panthers imprisoned in the US] who are maybe too controversial for conventional campaigns.
"I'm into more creative solutions now, definitely a lot less confrontational than I was."
I did sense, though, that Roddick missed her more public profile.
She jumped at my suggestion that she should write a newspaper column ("Really? You really think so? Oh I'd love that!") and, when asked what her ideal job would be, replied:
Anita & Thom Yorke of Radiohead for The Trade Justice Movement outside London's House of Parliament
"Minister for Public Spaces - I'd give every town its Day of Delight. There'd be pianos in the squares, music and dancing, and mad, unexpected sculptures everywhere."
My impression was of a woman full of life and ideas and plans for the future - and her energy was infectious.
"The most exciting time is now!" she declared, as we prepared to leave. And it was easy to believe that, of ourselves as well as her, as we sped down the drive. It is lined with chestnut trees - some ancient, some planted when Roddick moved in.
Typically impatient, she tried to stop the designer planting small trees: "I'll be dead before they're fully grown!" He persuaded her that they would grow quickly. What a sadness that she will never see that happen.
"Political Awareness and Activism must be woven into the fabric of business--to do otherwise is to be not merely an ostrich, but criminally irresponsible."
BUSINESS HERO: ANITA RODDICK
by Wendy Jewell
"I started The Body Shop in 1976 simply to create a livelihood for myself and my two daughters, while my husband, Gordon, was trekking across the Americas. I had no training or experience and my only business acumen was Gordon's advice to take sales of £300 a week. Nobody talks of entrepreneurship as survival, but that's exactly what it is and what nurtures creative thinking. Running that first shop taught me business is not financial science, it's about trading: buying and selling. It's about creating a product or service so good that people will pay for it. Now 26 years on The Body Shop is a multi-local business with 2010 stores serving over 77 million customers in 52 different markets in 25 different languages and across 12 time zones. And I haven't a clue how we got here."
Anita Roddick was born in Littlehampton, in 1942, the daughter of Italian immigrants. She always helped out in her family's business and learned early lessons of war-time frugality from her mother. Lessons: Re-use, Re-fill and Re-cycle, that would become the cornerstore for her Environmental Activism. Anita says she was a natural outsider. (Her childhood idol was James Dean.) Spending time in a Kibbutz in Israel led to an around the world working trip where she was exposed to many other cultures and beauty rituals. These experiences planted the seeds of how she would do business after she started The Body Shop in a tiny shop in Brighton, England. Frustrated that she couldn't buy small sizes of every day cosmetics, she started her own small cosmetics company, using natural products, sold in inexpensive plastic bottles. The rest, as they say, is history. "I am aware that success is more than a good idea. It is timing too. The Body Shop arrived just as Europe was going green."
Over the years, the International success of the Body Shop allowed Anita to "dedicate our business to the pursuit of social and environmental change.""For me, campaigning is about putting forward solutions, not just opposing destructive practises or human rights abuses." She believes that one of the bravest things The Body Shop ever did was to challenge the huge multi-national SHELL. At a United Nations Human Rights Conference in 1993, Anita met a delegation of Ogoni tribespeople from Nigeria. They were seeking justice and reparations against Shell for ravaging their lands thru oil exploration. Working with other NGO's, The Body Shop took on their cause and 4 years later Shell revised their way of doing business and committed the company to human rights and sustainable development. Tragically, Ken Saro-Wiwa(the key Ogoni spokesperson) and 8 others were executed in 1995 by the Nigerian government, but, eventually 19 others were released.
Anita Roddick walks her talk. She is an activist, entrepreneur, wife, mother, author, a lady, a recipient of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) and on and on. She has helped create and push forward so many things and won so many awards and backed so many worthy campaigns. Her vision keeps on growing and changing to fit what she sees happening around her and to help provide solutions to those injustices. "My sharpest focus has been matters of globalisation, because the "free trade at all costs" agenda is behind pretty much all of the issues I've spent the last 25 years campaigning on."After witnessing firsthand the chaos at the WTO meetings in Seattle in 1999, she realized her campaign for human rights, abused and ignored by trade rules, had only just begun. It is why she helped start The Trade Justice Movement, a fast growing group of organisations including aid agencies, environment and human rights campaigns, fair trade organisations, faith and consumer groups that are campaigning for trade justice - not free trade - with rules weighted to benefit poor people and the environment.
Anita has made getting involved on a global level as easy as a click of your mouse. I think she explains it the best. CHECK IT OUT. ABOUT ANITARODDICK.COM "I've always said that travel is the best university; getting from one place to another means more than physical movement. It also entails change, challenge, new ideas and inspirations. The Internet is a perfect platform for this kind of extra-ordinary travel. Think of this Web site as a kind of global travel agency for your heart and mind, with me as your humble guide. Take a trip with me into the worlds of activism, ethical business, human rights, environmentalism, womanhood, family, and so much more. One day, you'll be able to visit a women's co-operative in Ghana, the next, a black family farm in Alabama. One day, I'll be talking about beauty rituals in Japan; another I'll be having a go at the US government's willful ignorance about the wonders of industrial hemp, the crop of the future. In other words, this Web site is a grab-bag of ideas. But isn't that how we learn to appreciate life? Join me: I want to connect with people who share my outrage over the menace of global business practices, and who, like me, are seeking solutions. But I also want to tell -- and hear, from you -- stories that lift our spirits, that celebrate how glorious our planet is. Outrage and celebration -- let's run this gamut together."
GREENPEACE Greenpeace is a non-profit organisation that exists because this fragile earth deserves a voice. It needs solutions. It needs change. It needs action. Click here to find out how you can get involved. GREENPEACE INTERNATIONAL
CHILDREN ON THE EDGE Children on the Edge is a dynamic organisation committed to working on behalf of marginalized and vulnerable children; often orphaned or victims of war.
THE RUCKUS SOCIETY RUCKUS is a non-violent direct action organisation that uses wit, humour and courage to ensure those who seek to turn a blind eye to the impacts of business operating without a conscience or a heart get the message.
FRIENDS OF THE EARTH FRIENDS is an environmental campaigning charity that inspires solutions to environmental problems which make life better for people. FRIENDS OF THE EARTH INTERNATIONAL
A REVOLUTION IN KINDNESS (edited by Anita Roddick)
What would our world look like if we valued basic human kindness above all other ideals, such as wealth and power? How would our most familiar institutions -- our health-care system, our governments, our businesses, our schools, our prisons, our churches -- be transformed?http://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gif
With the help of celebrities, politicians, homeless street vendors, political prisoners, activists, and entrepreneurs, this book redefines "kindness" to give it a new vitality that is far from "random." Featuring essays by Annie Lennox, Philip Berrigan, Ralph Nader, David Korten and many more.
Brave Hearts, Rebel Spirits: A Spiritual Activists Handbook (Published in 2003) Written by Brooke Shelby Biggs Conceived by Anita Roddick
You know the names Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi, but have you heard of Roy Bourgeois or Neta Golan? They, and the wealth of spiritual activists in this book are the heirs to a great tradition of faith-based activism. This book profiles environmentalists, war resisters, gay-rights activists, labor agitators, and child advocates. They are Buddhists and Catholics, Hindus and Muslims, Jews and Quakers. The stories of these modern-day prophets of positive change will inspire you and provide the resources you need to put your own beliefs to work in the world.
Take it Personally (USA Edition): How to Make Conscious Choices to Change the World (Published in 2001) By Anita Roddick
Globalisation isn't just an amorphous idea: it affects everyone. In this stunningly designed new book, Anita invites the top thinkers in the struggle for humanitarian trade policies to weigh in on the problem, and to give citizens the tools and inspiration to do work for constructive solutions.
Contributors include David Korten, Julia Butterfly Hill, Vandana Shiva, Paul Hawken (author of Natural Capitalism), Naomi Klein (author of No Logo), and Ralph Nader.
CATCH THE TV SHOW TAKING IT PERSONALLY ON LINK TV
My new television show, "Taking It Personally with Anita Roddick," is part talk-show, part celebration, part dissent. My hope is to bring a new perspective to television by presenting under-represented views and under-reported stories into living rooms usually bombarded only by the corporate media and its dishonest messages. I've decided on the theme 'The Joy of Dissent' for the first episode, and invited as my guests Medea Benjamin of CodePink, John Sellers of the Ruckus Society and Kevin Danaher of Global Exchange to help me explore the power of humour and laughter and joy in protest.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Anita Roddick: A great heart in a tiny frame