Obituary: Champneys founder Dorothy Purdew

By Alessandro Carrara | Published: 7-Sep-2023

Dorothy Purdew was the the founder and Chairperson of the Champneys spa chain, which she established in 2002

Dorothy Purdew, the founder of the Champneys Spa, passed away this week aged 91.

The business owner, who was born in Clapham, London in 1932, established one of the most recognisable upmarket spa chains in the UK during her lifetime.

Her business, which she continued to help run into her 90s, is also a tremendous success story and has been valued at over £300m in 2023.

But Purdew’s journey to become one of Britain’s most affluent businesswomen has humble origins.

It began in 1970 when Purdew established her first company, WeightGuard, with just £60 in her pocket.

Despite only five people attending the weight loss company’s first class, the business venture ended up becoming a massive success - with Purdew going on to own over 70 slimming clubs in the UK.

Eight years later opened her first health farm, Frimleys, a residential establishment designed to people’s health through dieting and exercise.

Purdew was not one to rest on her laurels, however, and invested her earnings into the acquisition of the Henlow Grange manor house in Bedfordshire in 1981.

Over the following years she also purchased Springs Hydro, Forest Mere and then Champneys Tring.

With all four properties under her ownership, the Purdew family officially established the Champneys group in 2002.

Pictured: Champneys Eastwell Manor

Pictured: Champneys Eastwell Manor

Over 20 years later the brand became an icon in the luxury spa sector, and has played host to celebrities and TV personalities including Naomi Campbell, Judi Dench and Brad Pitt. 

The late Princess Diana is also said to have been a frequent visitor to various Champneys Spas.

Purdew was awarded an OBE in 2008, having been credited for her contributions to charity and her work in furthering the health spa industry.

More recently, Purdew and her son Stephen added Eastwell Manor and Mottram Hall in Cheshire to the brand’s portfolio.

In response to the news of her death, Champneys Spa issued a statement and said: “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.”

Tributes have also been paid by other Spa Companies, including Ragdale Hall Spa, located near Leicester in the UK.

“On behalf of Ragdale Hall Spa, we send our deepest condolences,” the brand said in an Instagram comment.

“A remarkable legacy and true pioneer in the world of wellness and relaxation. Today, we pause and reflect in memory of Dorothy Rose Purdew OBE.”

Purdew 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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