‘Anita Roddick’s legacy has only grown stronger…’

A decade ago one of the UK's most inspiring and successful social campaigners passed away. Lord John Bird and others remember the "fun, genius" Anita Roddick – who played a significant part in launching The Big Issue

Big Issue founder Lord John Bird says that Anita Roddick’s importance has only grown over the years.

Along with her husband Gordon, The Body Shop founder helped Bird to launch The Big Issue in 1991, and continued to nurture and support the company.

As The Big Issue commemorates the 10th anniversary of Anita’s death – she died of a brain haemorrhage, aged 64 – Bird has described the shock of losing his “extraordinary” friend.

“It is 10 years since one of the most important people in social and ethical trading left us,” he said. “It was an enormous surprise at the time, and I don’t think that any of us have got over it. And her importance grows over the years.”

Anita Roddick, John Bird, Shelter director Sheila McKechnie and Gordon Roddick launch the first Big Issue magazine in 1991
Left to right: Anita Roddick, John Bird, Shelter director Sheila McKechnie and Gordon Roddick launch the first Big Issue in 1991

Anita Roddick started The Body Shop in 1976, opening the first store in Brighton, which was dedicated to the ethical trading of beauty products. Forty years later, the organisation continues to thrive, with over 3,000 stores in 66 countries.

Not only did Anita play a huge part in creating and shaping a more socially-conscious marketplace, but she also brought her remarkable campaigning spirit and business acumen to a variety of good causes, including the Amazon rainforest, the Angola Three, and the National Missing Persons Helpline (now called Missing People).

She made business an increasingly useful tool for political and social action

“Out of lotions and potions, Anita built an extraordinary business,” Bird said at the time of her death. “A business that left a trail not of devastation, but of work, opportunity and social justice.

“She had deep wells of energy and curiosity, and even deeper wells of commitment. She made business an increasingly useful tool for political and social action.”

After The Big Issue became established as the UK’s leading social enterprise, the Roddicks’ support continued, and in 2002 Anita made a TV documentary about homelessness, sleeping rough for a week along with former Big Issue vendor Sam Woodlock.

“Anita was so brave and funny,” remembers Woodlock. “She was determined to do everything the programme-makers wanted. She sat outside Covent Garden tube station, all wrapped up in scarves and a woolly hat.

DID YOU KNOW…

Our vendors buy every copy of the magazine from us for £1.25 and sell it on to you for £2.50. Which is why we ask you to ALWAYS take your copy of the magazine. We believe in trade not aid.

“She also decided to test the staff at the local Body Shop. All dressed up in her bag-lady clothes and dragging a black sack full of her things, she walked into the shop and started to spray the testers on herself. She was so pleased that the staff were kind to her, and didn’t throw her out.

“I was pregnant when we made the programme,” Woodlock adds. “Later when my husband and I got housed, Anita sent us a lorry-load of furniture, ornaments, a cot and a buggy. She always cared about the homeless. There will never be anyone else like her.”

Anita and Gordon Roddick
Anita and Gordon Roddick

Dame Anita was born in Littlehampton, West Sussex, and remained in the region for the rest of her life. Hove MP Peter Kyle knew the Roddicks as a teenager.

“I’ve never met anyone as single-minded in the pursuit of social justice,” he told The Argus. “But she was also huge fun, and had a streak of genius that made her un-ignorable.

“I remember her shutting down the Littlehampton operation one Friday afternoon, and we all went off to play rounders.”

The Body Shop tweeted:

With The Big Issue Shop, we are proud to continue with the ethical trading ethos that Anita Roddick did so much to bring into the public realm.

The Big Issue no 762
The Big Issue's tribute magazine in September 2007