Champneys founder recalls cutting edge work of Henlow Grange

Dorothy Purdew
Dorothy Purdew

Henlow Grange changed the face of health farms, the creator of Champneys has said as she celebrates her 85th birthday.

From a £60 loan 47 years’ ago, to an international business valued at over £100-million today, Dorothy Purdew OBE, owner of Champneys, celebrates her 85th birthday this month at the same time as International Women’s Day puts the spotlight on business success.

Born and raised by a working-class family in Clapham, Mrs Purdew started her weight loss business, WeightGuard, at the age of 38 with just five people attending the first class.

Her business quickly grew to more than 70 slimming clubs in the south east before purchasing the first health farm property just eight years’ later in 1978.

Mrs Purdew’s innovation has cemented her place as a pioneer and the matriarch of the British spa industry, responsible for buying and growing the UK’s first purpose-built health spa, Champneys Springs.

With her late husband, Bob, and son Stephen, she went on to buy Henlow Grange, Springs, Forest Mere and finally Champneys Tring, where her clients have included stars of TV and film, sports personalities and the rich and famous.

Mrs Purdew lives by a deeply rooted working philosophy, which has supported her building a brand that has become one of the most iconic spa brands in the word. She said: “It was my second resort, Henlow Grange, 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.

“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.

“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.”

The chain has an annual turnover of more than £40-million and is not only one of the largest spa companies in the world but also an established major brand in the health and beauty industry.

Her birthday comes during the same month when inspirational female leaders are celebrated under the spotlight for International Women’s Day.

A successful businesswoman in her own right, Mrs Purdew has shared her success over the years seeing her family and Champneys donate more that £3million in 30 years and the establishment of an International College of Health and Beauty, supporting the education and training of thousands of industry professionals.

Mrs Purdew recognises her success but places a great emphasis on those around her. She said: “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.”

On women in business and success she says: “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.”

At 85 Mrs Purdew is still as involved in the business as ever, as chairperson and co-owner with her son Stephen and doesn’t see herself slowing down any time soon:

“Something bad could happen to any of us at any stage.

“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.”

As part of her celebrations Mrs Purdew is sending a treat to new mothers a Stevenage hospital whose new-born babies share the same birthday as herself. and