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Dame Anita Roddick, the entrepreneur who founded The Body Shop and built it into an alternative to the mainstream cosmetics industry, died on Monday of a brain haemorrhage, aged 64.

Dame Anita, who viewed the sale of the retail chain to L’Oréal, the world’s leading cosmetics maker, as an opportunity to change big business from the inside, had been suffering from cirrhosis of the liver. She had developed the condition as a result of contracting hepatitis C during a blood transfusion when she was giving birth to her youngest daughter in 1971. She did not realise she was carrying the virus until more than three decades later.

Hepatitis C entailed carrying “a sharp sense of my own mortality, which in many ways makes life more vivid and immediate”, she said, adding that it had made her “even more determined to just get on with things”.

Last night The Body Shop said she was the “heart and passion” of the company. “It is no exaggeration to say that she changed the world of business with her campaigns for social and environmental responsibility.”

Gordon Brown said: “As one of this country’s most successful businesswomen she was an inspiration to women throughout the country striving to set up and grow their own companies.”

Born in Littlehampton in 1942, Dame Anita, a self-described “natural outsider”, founded The Body Shop in 1976. Her commitment to natural ingredients and avoiding animal testing, combined with her refusal to impose impossible ideals of beauty on her customers and her commitment to environmentalism, fuelled the company’s growth.

She had an antagonistic relationship with the mainstream cosmetics industry. However, she and The Body Shop’s other key shareholders decided to sell it to L’Oréal for £652m in 2006. The decision provoked dissent from some Body Shop diehards.

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