Champneys founder Dorothy Purdew dies aged 91

Dorothy Purdew OBE dies aged 91: Working class Londoner built Princess Diana’s favourite spa brand Champneys from scratch

  • Dorothy Purdew OBE became one of the UK’s most successful businesswomen
  • READ MORE: Champneys owner says they are being ‘unfairly ostracised’ and if ministers keep them closed 40 years of work will be wrecked

Founder of the Champneys spa chain, Dorothy Purdew OBE, has died aged 91.

Dorothy, who came from a working class background, went on to become of the of the UK’s most successful businesswomen thanks to the success of the Champneys brand.

She launched the spa chain as a place for famous, wealthy people to relax, and it became popular amongst prolific guests including Diana, Princess of Wales, who reportedly favoured the spa.

And according to Champneys, the brand is now worth more than £300million, and is one of the world’s biggest spa chains.

Growing up in Clapham, south London, Dorothy had just £60 start-up capital when she started her successful weight loss business WeightGuard, at the age of 38 around 1970.

Dorothy Purdew OBE, (pictured) has died aged 91. She was the founder of Champneys spa brand, said to be worth £300million

While her first class was attended by just five people, the brand grew significantly over the next decade, owning more than 70 slimming clubs in the south east of England by 1978 when the company opened its first health farm Frimleys.

With her late husband Bob, and son Stephen, Dorothy bought Henlow Grange in 1981.

Then over subsequent years, Dorothy and Stephen went on to purchase Springs Health Farm in 1990, Forest Mere in 1995, and Champneys Tring in 2002, creating the Champneys group with all four properties under that banner that year.

Over the years, the spas have attracted a number of celebrity guests, including actors, athletes, and other wealthy, high profile figures.

According to Champneys, its patrons have included ‘Naomi Campbell, Kylie Minogue, Dames Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, Naomie Harris, Daniel Craig and Brad Pitt’. The organisation adds that it ‘was also a favourite of the late Diana, Princess of Wales’.

In 2008, Dorothy was  recognised with an OBE, for her services to the health spa industry and charity.

She said at the time: ‘It is an honour, but it is also recognition that Champneys has led the changes over the years in the spa industry.’ 

In recent years, the chain faced challenges during the Covid pandemic, with lockdown said to be costing the business around £1.5million a month.

Pictured at her 90th birthday party, Dorothy was said to be reading guest feedback in her nineties, as she strove to improve the business

Dorothy Purdew (pictured with her son Stephen) was known as one of the world’s most influential spa operators

It reportedly bounced back however, and has since taken on an additional two sites, Eastwell Manor in Kent and Mottram Hall in Cheshire.    

In a statement announcing Dorothy’s death, Champneys said: ‘It is with great sadness, that we announce the death of our owner and chairperson, Mrs Dorothy Rose Purdew OBE.’

It continued: ‘Dorothy could never believe a girl from a working-class background could become one of the world’s most influential spa operators. 

‘Champneys became her life. Even into her nineties, she would read the guest feedback every morning, eager to learn of how the business could improve. The Champneys brand is now valued at over £300million.’  

Dorothy is survived by her sons Stephen and Simon, her grandchildren; James, Daisy, Robert, Raffaella, Barnaby and her great grandchildren; Charlie, Olivia and Henry. 

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