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When I heard about Anita Roddick’s death from a brain haemorrhage I felt a strange, sad twinge, almost as if I’d lost a work colleague. I had only recently met her for the first (and sadly last) time in late June. Red Pepper editor Hilary Wainwright, publisher Fiona Osler and I had been invited to her riverside apartment a stone’s throw from the Millennium Bridge to discuss our funding appeal to the Roddick Foundation. While prepping our pitch at a cafe around the corner I was forewarned about her blunt, bullish nature and was a little bit nervous, hopeful yet wary. But I needn’t have been.
It’s true Anita didn’t beat around the bush. The built-up tension was instantly diffused the moment we walked into her bright, über-cool pad. She greeted us with a sprightly grin, declared with her trademark no-nonsense style that the grant was ours and then went off to get us some juice from her fridge.
When she rejoined us at her kitsch kitchen table with drinks in tow I had the chance to survey her at close quarters. She was surprisingly petite for the pioneering tour de force that she was and she looked much older and frailer than the Body Shop promotional images of the 1990s. The hepatitis C had taken its toll on her physical appearance but it hadn’t won the battle with her mental acumen, willfulness and passion.
After the initial pleasantries and introductions we got down to business. I was impressed. The questions came thick and fast: this was a woman on top of her game. While Fiona Osler summarised our expenditure I could see her mentally assessing whether the figures added up – it was like watching a one-woman Dragon’s Den.
Once the accounts were out of the way she switched gear to the editorial content and offered a spectrum of ideas, including a photo-reportage on ethical tourism and extended arts coverage with a focus on political theatre and public art installations. ‘Who owns public space?’ she mused. She also suggested regular columns highlighting social enterprises. At one point she went off and came back with a beautiful coffee table book, The Design of Dissent by Milton Glaser and Mirko Ilic. Flicking through it she gestured towards the iconic leftfield illustrations to inspire the Red Pepper revamp.
She also touched on subjects for investigation, such as the British American Project, a neo-con think-tank that had apparently been invited to Sheffield University for a talk on faith and justice. The brainstorming session concluded on the sickening global trade in human organs. A particularly poignant topic as Anita had told us that she would probably need a live transplant herself within the next two years. It seemed typical of her character that she was the one to broach the subject of her illness; when she did so she was trademark matter of fact.
When the scheduled 90 minutes was up we propositioned Anita about a continuing involvement with what Red Pepper is doing: she was happy to agree. I suppose this wasn’t unexpected because Anita’s whole career and ethos went beyond money. On saying our goodbyes I felt an impulse to hug the reigning ‘Queen of Green’. Her generosity, involvement and warm exuberance that day in June had re-energised our spirits for the new, redesigned Red Pepper magazine and website.
To put it bluntly, we couldn’t have done it without her. Thank you for being on board Anita.
Hepatitis and Anita
In an article, \’Hepatitis C and me\’, written for the Hepatitis C Trust website in February 2007, Anita Roddick wrote that: ‘In a way, campaigning with the Hepatitis C Trust is business as usual for me. I’ve always felt that “activism is my rent for living on this planet” and I’ve always wanted to celebrate and protect the human body.’
Read the whole article here: \’Hepatitis C and me\’