Romy Fraser OBE, 70, founded Neal’s Yard Remedies in 1981. She sold it in 2005. Divorced with two grown-up daughters, she lives on a farm in Devon that supports a community of small businesses.
By my mid-30s I was a single parent working as a teacher in London, dreaming of opening my own school. But then my friend Nicholas Saunders, who set up Neal’s Yard Wholefoods, asked if I would like to rent one of his spaces as an alternative pharmacy.
He knew I was passionate about homeopathy, and in 1981 there were few places to access natural remedies.
I took out a bank loan of £18,000 and opened a tiny apothecary in the yard selling homeopathic products, essential oils, Bach flower remedies and dried herbs.
I’d grown up in the country. If we had a cold my mother prescribed cinnamon tea. We never took antibiotics.
I was inspired to study homeopathy when I discovered how powerful herbs are. I was living in Scotland when someone cut themselves badly. A friend, who had learned about herbs from her Polish granny, wrapped the hand in marigold leaves. By the time we got to hospital the wound had almost healed.
I felt passionately that people could use natural products rather than depending on the NHS — which became the idea behind Neal’s Yard Remedies.
I emphasised to customers that I was not a practitioner: I was giving them options. One of our early regular customers was Hollywood legend Lauren Bacall. Natural medicines drove the business, but toiletries and essential oils provided the profit. Eventually we opened an eco factory in Dorset.
I’d always planned to fund an educational project. So, in 2005, I sold the company and bought Trill Farm, an organic farm that offered courses. I’m still a teacher at heart, but I love the fact I created a business based on plants.