European Spa pays tribute to Dorothy Purdew OBE: 1932-2023

We celebrate Dorothy Purdew's lifetime of devotion to the spa industry and her creation of Champneys Health Resorts


By European Spa

08 September 2023

It was with great sadness that the spa industry learned of the passing of the spa owner and respected industry pioneer Dorothy Purdew OBE, on September 5, 2023.

Dorothy was the mother of two sons, Stephen and Simon and proud grandmother of James, Daisy, Robert, Raffaella, Barnaby and great grandmother of Charlie, Olivia and Henry. She masterfully balanced life, work and family throughout her extraordinary career to build an iconic spa brand.

Together with Champneys owner and co-founder Stephen Purdew – and her dedicated team across Champneys Health Resorts, headed by CEO Alan Whiteley – Dorothy steered Champneys success. In truth, retirement was never on the lips of this dedicated 91-year-old entrepreneur, who enjoyed creating, innovating and spending time with everyone in the business.

Contributing to Champney’s progress, as well as enjoying her family and friends, was simply her life.

Dorothy Purdew, OBE: 1932-2023
Dorothy Purdew OBE, founder of Champneys Health Resorts

Building Champneys: an iconic spa brand

Dorothy was born in Clapham, London in 1932. Always proud of her working-class roots, she started her own weight-watching business at 37 with a £60 loan from her father to buy some weighing scales and print leaflets. Then, together with her late husband Bob, and son Stephen, she opened her first Health farm, Frimleys eight years later before going on to buy Henlow Grange.

Today the Champneys brand remains a family business and is said to be valued at over £300 million, employing 1,600 people. Dorothy took great pride in building Champneys, transforming the brand over the years to meet ever-evolving demand. It’s impressive portfolio today includes four iconic resorts, two spa hotels, its own training college, a spa retail range and cruise ship partnerships.

“My mother’s unwavering commitment to excellence and her belief in providing the highest quality treatments set a benchmark for the industry.”

Stephen Purdew

Owner and co-founder, Champneys

“As the co-founder of Champneys, my mother’s passion for creating a haven of relaxation and wellbeing touched the lives of countless individuals, delivering rejuvenation to both the body and mind,” Stephen Purdew told European Spa. “Her unwavering commitment to excellence and her belief in providing the highest quality treatments set a benchmark for the industry.”

Dorothy Purdew OBE: a big-hearted and respected leader

Dorothy was highly respected across the spa industry, with many of today’s spa leaders having started their careers at Champneys.

In 2008, she was recognised with an OBE for services to the hospitality sector and charity, which she said was one of “proudest moments of my life”. She actively participated in Champneys annual charity bike ride to raise money for Stand Up to Cancer. Privately, Dorothy also supported many charities dedicated to children and other good causes.

Queen Elizabeth giving Dorothy Purdew her OBE
Champney's Health Resorts' Dorothy Purdew receives her OBE from Queen Elizabeth II

In a tribute to Dorothy, Champneys CEO Alan Whiteley said: “Today, we mourn the loss of a great lady and extraordinary entrepreneur. Dorothy Purdew’s spirit and impact will forever remain an integral part of Champneys’ identity. Though she may no longer be with us, her legacy lives on, guiding us as we continue to provide unparalleled wellness experiences and carry the torch she lit so brightly.”

He continued: “I was privileged to know Mrs Purdew for ten years, and in that time she kept me on my toes – there wouldn’t be a day that passed without us speaking to each other. She would remind me that Champneys is a precious jewel that must be developed and protected for future generations.

Dorothy Purdew OBE with Lesley Bacon of Hand Picked Hotels (far left), European Spa's Sarah Camilleri and Noella Gabriel of Elemis (far right)

“However, it was her passion for fundraising and her charity work which most impressed me. She was an advocate for small, local charities, wanting to make a real difference in people’s lives. Over the years she raised hundreds of thousands of pounds.”

Tributes to her achievements and kindness

Dorothy contributed much to the UK spa industry’s evolution and actively participated in industry events as a speaker. She worked tirelessly to elevate career pathways for therapists and enjoyed celebrating at spa industry awards, of which she was proud to win many.

She also took time to support our work at European Spa magazine, and Sarah Camilleri, publisher and editorial director of European Spa, said: “Dorothy was an inspiration to so many. A champion of spa business, she was passionate about people – from trainee therapists joining the industry to spa management.”

“Dorothy was also one of the most driven and positive people I have ever met, always curious, always learning and always positive. I was privileged to have her guidance on many occasions and to call her a mentor and friend.”

Sarah Camilleri

Founding editor, European Spa

Lesley Bacon, group health club and spa manager at Hand Picked Hotels, said she was also grateful for her friendship: “She was so generous with her time, knowledge and thoughtfulness. Dorothy held a room, she was spa royalty and rightly so – she had the respect of everyone who came across her.

“She was a lady whose vision lead the way for the spa landscape we see today. A leader of industry undoubtably but also a wonderful sense of humour, a great storyteller over lunch and her love of life were also a big part of her character. I will truly miss her but am so lucky to have had the pleasure to call her a friend.”

A group of people preparing for a coach trip
Dorothy Purdew, pictured with her son Stephen and their friends

Supporting the next generation

Honouring Dorothy on behalf of Elemis, the brand’s co-founder and global president, Noella Gabriel, shared her memories: “Dorothy Purdew was always ‘Mrs P’ to me. She was a dear friend and mentor for over 25 years. Dorothy had an incredible warmth, kindness and was always so intuitive both in her business and relationships.”


“Her laugh was infectious, she was witty, fun, charming and always up for a celebration! Her life experience gave her such rich wisdom that I truly admired and valued. She will be greatly missed.”

Noella Gabriel

Co-founder and global president, Elemis

Champneys’ spa director Laura Tatlow paid tribute to Dorothy’s work to raise standards in spa delivery: “Mrs Purdew was the heart centre of our spas and was always so passionate about the team and the guest experience, her enthusiasm was so refreshing.

“She was the pioneer of our spa apprenticeship programme, devoted to bringing new young talent into the industry and developing their skills to be the best therapists they can be. Supporting our Champneys Beauty College, she would come to every graduation without fail, leaving the room inspired on their journey into the industry.”

“Dorothy was so special to so many but to me I was blessed to have enjoyed life with her and Stephen. I am truly honoured, privileged and proud to have been part of her incredible life and journey. She will always be in my heart and my life!”

Sean Harrington

Co-founder and CEO, Elemis; Executive director, L’Occitane International S.A.

International spa consultant – and a good friend of Dorothy – Tanya Wheway said: “Dorothy will leave a huge gap in the minds and hearts of many… what a dame! She achieved so much and gave so much. I loved her directness, her humour, her sense of adventure and her genuine interest and care for her family, colleagues and friends. She certainly left her mark on the world of spa.”

Dorothy Purdew seated at a black tie dinner
Dorothy Purdew OBE will be missed by her family and friends throughout the spa industry

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