Not without my lipstick
Herbal entrepreneur Dee Atkinson shuns luxury on business trips and
has even bedded down on a wooden platform with a tin roof. But she
won't go anywhere without her lipstick. "I often travel to different
parts of the world to look at new products," she says. "I went to Costa
Rica to see whether indigenous plants had the potential to produce
essential oils. I stayed with a family in the south and lived on a
wooden platform with a tin roof. I also went to Peru to learn about
botanical plants and stayed in a research project, but I took my
lipstick. It's the little things that make you feel fantastic."
Atkinson, 43, is the co-owner of Napiers, which specialises in
natural health treatments and herbal medicines. The company recently
joined forces with Culpeper, which owns a chain of herbal shops, and
the combined firm now has 14 retail outlets and eight natural health
clinics throughout the UK. It employs around 150 staff and has an
annual turnover of £4 million.
In addition to travelling to see new products, Edinburgh-based
Atkinson also visits the company's UK stores and attends trade shows
around the world.
Those trips must have been an eye-opener?
They certainly were - I had a marvellous time. You have to be a bit
careful in San Jose (Costa Rica) though. I had a dodgy experience there
when I got into a taxi and realised the driver was taking me in the
wrong direction. I just had that horrible feeling that something awful
was going to happen. I waited for the taxi to slow down in some traffic
and then just jumped out and ran for it.
Any other strange experiences on trips?
I suppose I've been quite lucky, really. I was once stuck on a bus
in India and it was very cramped. I needed to get off to go to the loo,
but it was just impossible, so I'm afraid I had to hang my butt out of
the window. When a girl's got to go, she's got to go.
Which other exotic destinations have you been to?
The place that really stands out is the Solomon Islands. I went
there in 2001, to see if we could get some 'fair trade' coconut oil. We
couldn't at the time, but it was an incredible place and I stayed with
a local family, which made it all the more interesting.
Do you ever go on more conventional business trips?
Yes, I've been to New York, Washington and Canada on business. I
went to New York because we had just signed a contract with Bath &
Body Works, which was a massive deal for us. I flew on Indian Airways
and the aircraft was decorated in 1980s laminate. There were no lights
in our section. I also saw a fistfight between a group of young ladies
who reclined in their chairs and a rather large woman, who was sitting
behind them. It was all calmed down when the large woman was moved to
another seat and the little princesses were allowed to carry on
How do you book your trips?
I usually do them myself and book over the internet, often with
expedia.com. I'm always in the back of the plane because I go for the
cheapest option. On short haul trips, I've been with easyJet quite a
Do you relax on flights and enjoy the food and drink?
My flight regime is a bit odd. The night before I travel I get a
bowl of muesli and soak it in orange juice. I usually leave the house
at 5.30am, take the bowl with me and eat on the aircraft. Business
people do look at me as if I'm mad. But I won't eat airline food. On
long-haul flights I take nuts and oatcake and plenty of water and some
herbal medicines to prevent jetlag. I also like cheeses; I came back
from Germany once with a fantastic soft cheese, but it didn't go down
too well among the other passengers. I don't drink alcohol on flights,
because I find that it makes me very tired.
How do you pass the time on flights?
I like to read books about herbs and cooking. Consuming Passions by
Philippa Puller, is a great story about the history of food and sex. I
can also recommend Roy Strong's Feast, a history of grand eating and I
loved reading all about the history of salt, and how it was used as a
trading commodity and currency. After that, I decided to develop
products using pink Himalayan salt.
Where do you stay on business?
Usually in bed and breakfast houses, or anywhere that's cheap. In
London, I go to the Victory Services Club in Seymour Street. It's for
ex-servicemen, but I can stay there because my parents were in the
services. It's an interesting place; not all the rooms are en suite and
you get a lot of old boys there who have some fantastic tales to tell.
At £48 a night it's a bargain, though. In New York, I stayed in the
Paramount hotel, which is quite a cheap option.
Do you do exercise to keep fit while you're away?
Eh, pardon? What's exercise? Seriously, I do try to keep fit and go
to the gym a couple of times a week. I eat healthily and I think it's
important to complement that with exercise, but I don't often do much
while I'm away because I tend to stay in cheaper places without
How do you travel around the UK?
If I'm in Edinburgh, I like to go to meetings on my bicycle, unless
it's pouring with rain. Although I fly down to different cities, I'm
pretty low maintenance when I'm there and I'm very happy to get the
bus. I never use a taxi. (She then breaks off the conversation to ask
her colleague if a taxi is coming). Ok, you got me there, but that's
because there's a strike today. Usually I never get taxis.
What's your dress code for travelling?
I'm always casual and particularly so if flying. What's the point of
dressing up to go in economy? I don't own a suit and never have. The
only time I had one was when I went to a meeting to take over Napiers
and bought a suit from Marks and Spencer for £150. I took it back the
next day, after the meeting, and got a refund. I prefer to wear
boot-cut skinny jeans and casual tops. I also travel light, although
when I went to Peru the trip took six weeks and I did have rather a lot
of stuff. It literally took a man with a buffalo to shift my bags and I
wasn't very popular.
Do you have any tips for travellers?
The best thing you can do is research a place before you go because
you'll get so much more out of the trip. Of course, I always take some
natural medicines and some vitamins with me. I also have lavender and
tea tree essential oils, to help with colds. Does it sound as though
I'm a walking medicine cabinet? It's not that bad, really, I just have
a travel kit with all these things in.
Take your own food on aircraft!