Gordon Brown has led tributes to Dame Anita Roddick, the environmental campaigner and founder of ethical cosmetics chain, The Body Shop. The prime minister hailed the 64-year-old businesswoman as one of the "country's true pioneers".

Anita died on Monday evening after suffering a major brain haemorrhage. Her husband Gordon and daughters Sam and Justine were by her bedside at St Richard's Hospital in Chichester, West Sussex. She had originally been admitted to the clinic on Sunday, complaining of a headache.

In February this year Anita revealed she'd been battling hepatitis, an illness she contracted through a 1971 transfusion with infected blood while giving birth to her younger daughter, Sam.

Born to Italian immagrants the eco-conscious entrepreneur opened her first cosmetics shop in her West Sussex hometown of Littlehampton in 1976. She went on to build an international empire based on cruelty-free products which, by the time she stepped down in 2003, boasted 1,980 shops and 77 million customers.

She was also much recognised for her environmental and humanitarian efforts, working to highlight the problems of Aids and poverty in the developing world. "Anita was an amazing ball of energy and passion," said Greenpeace director John Sauven. "Young people really listened to her, too. It did not matter whether she was with an indigenous tribe in the middle of nowhere or with a class of schoolkids - she could connect with them all."

He added: "She was a real pioneer. She put green and environmental issues on the business agenda when other people laughed at her."

Photo: ©
Gordon Brown described Anita Roddick, seen here at Buckingham Palace being invested as a Dame in 2003, as one of the "country's true pioneers" in campaigning on environmental issues long before it was fashionable
Photo: ©
The eco-conscious entrepreneur led the way in the ethical sourcing of products for her Body Shop chain, which became a high street icon in the Eighties Photo: © Getty Images