Today is International Women’s Day, an occasion that sparks inspiration across the globe through the achievements of aspirational women.
And where better to get the lowdown on a strong, passionate woman than our own business. Step forward Champneys co-Owner and Chairperson, Dorothy Purdew OBE – the matriarch of the British spa industry.
Dorothy Purdew opened her first health farm, Frimleys, in 1978. With her son Stephen, she went on to buy Henlow Grange, Springs (the UK’s first purpose-built health spa), Forest Mere and finally Champneys in Tring in 2002.
Aligning the resorts under the Champneys name, the Purdews then opened six city spas, located in Chichester, Enfield, Guildford, Milton Keynes, St Albans and Tunbridge Wells.
With an International College of Health and Beauty already in place, the portfolio was then boosted by a range of globally recognised products.
In 2016, a second Champneys college (Holborn, London) was added. The portfolio was extended further following the acquisition of the historic Kent hotel, Eastwell Manor.
Hailing from a working class background, Mrs Purdew was born in Clapham in 1932 and started her first business, WeightGuard, in 1970 with just £60 in her pocket. Five people turned up for the first class, however, as a result of her drive and ambition, it would culminate in more than 70 slimming clubs in the south east before the purchase of that first health farm.
A pioneer of the health and wellbeing industry and a leading light within the spa world, Mrs Purdew’s innovation and steadfast commitment have helped establish Champneys as one of the UK’s go-to health and wellbeing resorts.
To celebrate International Women’s Day, here, we provide a short insight into the working philosophy of the woman behind one of the most iconic spa brands in the world…
Mrs Purdew on setting up her own business
I set up WeightGuard because I wanted to help women like me lose weight. When a friend suggested I set up my own slimming club, I did. I borrowed £60 from my father to buy some weighing scales and distributed leaflets. Only five people turned up at the first meeting, but I wasn’t deterred. Word spread quickly enough and soon I had a demand on the whole area. When members of the slimming clubs told me that they were still having trouble losing weight, I knew what I had to do. They were having trouble keeping out of the fridge, so what I did was bring them back to my home for the night and show them what they needed to be doing. This is what prompted me to decide on running a resort. So when a land agent offered me an affordable six-year lease on a big house in Surrey on the condition I maintained and improved the building, I gladly accepted.
Mrs Purdew on helping to change the face of the health and wellbeing industry
It was my second resort, Henlow Grange in Bedfordshire, that really changed the face of health farms. Suddenly, they weren’t frightening places to go. We did much to change the perception of health farms, we made them welcoming and more affordable. The women who stay with us work hard for their money, and choosing to spend it with us is a huge compliment.
Mrs Purdew on running her own business
When you run your own business, every day is a challenge – a delivery might not arrive, you run out of a product or sauna stops working. But problems are there to be solved. Fortunately, I’ve always been able to see a way out. The day I can’t is the one when I’ll get the Zimmer frame out.
Mrs Purdew on the Champneys philosophy
We don’t talk down to people, or try to impress them with jargon; we aim to make a powerful personal connection. We want to share our expertise and understand that beauty is more than skin deep. We’re proud to have such a wealth of expertise, and that is what really stands us out from our rivals. As many people will know, we’re a family business, and as a result, we have worked extremely hard to get to where we are. Myself and my son Stephen, are determined to provide the ultimate spa experience.
Mrs Purdew on family
I wouldn’t be where I am today without my family. Success may have brought monetary rewards and security, but it’s what you can’t put a price on that matters most – family and friends who love you. Stephen, my son, joined the business in his twenties, but working together has never affected our relationship. I’m still very much involved in the business particularly with brainstorming ideas for development, but he’s now the driving force.
Mrs Purdew on raising money for charity
As a family we have been raising money for a wide range of charities for some 30 years and have so far donated more than £3 million. I’m extremely committed to making a difference within the local communities and beyond – and we have managed to do that thanks to the continued success of the Champneys Charitable Foundation which was registered in 2006. In 2017 we raised more than £100,000 and we hope 2018 will be just as rewarding.
Mrs Purdew on success
Some women expect success to come to them, but it won’t. You have to work hard and make your own luck. I’m not special or particularly entrepreneurial, and I’m sure there are lots of women my age who are still working. I’ve been fortunate to have been presented with a number of opportunities, and brave enough to take them.
Mrs Purdew on life
Something bad could happen to any of us at any stage. I try to appreciate every day and live with no regrets. I’ve seen every year as an exciting new chapter and the chance to experience new things. As long as I have my health, I have no intention of slowing down.
You can read more about Mrs Purdew's fascinating life story in The Long Road to Champneys: The extraordinary life of a pioneering Spa Queen.