Thursday, 4 October 2018

'Dear John: The Road to Pelindaba', by Jeff Osment; a mini review and excerpt!

Here’s something you may not have known about the mega rad brand Lush… they publish books!? And if you follow me on socials, I’m sure you’re aware they frequently host epic Lush book club events in their Soho HQ, yes? Ughh, I love those evenings. See you at the next one, maybe? 

Lush also have a record label, and are making waves right now with their new cosmetics range, as well as their new naked packaging projects. Basically, they’re kicking butt in all kinds of areas. But in this particular post, I’ll be focusing on their bookish endeavours… one in particular.

'Dear John – The Road to Pelindaba' by Jeff Osment is the incredible tale of Mark Constantine OBE, Co-Founder of Lush, and his long-lost father. Read on to get a glimpse of the amazing story... 





'Dear John: The Road To Pelindaba', by Jeff Osment.

Prologue.


'Dear John' was a message in a bottle, a letter lovingly written in perfume to a long-lost father who had disappeared into Africa in 1954 when his son was still a baby, and who had never come home. That baby was Mark Constantine OBE, the perfumer and entrepreneur at the head of the global high-street brand Lush Cosmetics, and the scented message was not seeking to end a relationship but to keep it alive. 

It was a story I’d heard many times, having grown up with Mark on adjacent housing estates in our home town of Weymouth in Dorset. We had met at Cub Scouts when I was ten years old, and over the next six years – through scouting, our local church and at grammar school – we began a friendship that has now spanned six decades. 

For almost all of his childhood Mark lived at his grandmother’s house but, when his mother remarried in 1964, twelve-year-old Mark moved into a new home with his mother and stepfather. It was the first time he had ever had any sort of father figure in his life. His maternal grandfather had died in 1938, and Mark had never met his paternal grandfather or known much about him. Within a few months his beloved grandmother Blanche Gardner died, triggering a breakdown in Mark’s relationship with his mother and particularly his stepfather. Unknown to Mark, his actual father, John Constantine, had returned to the UK from Kenya, had also remarried and was living in Gloucestershire. 




I didn’t know much of this at the time, except for the fact that Mark’s father had joined the Royal Kenyan Police and that Mark didn’t get on with his stepfather. That unhappy relationship reached a low point in the summer of 1968 when Mark failed his GCE examinations, a cardinal sin for a pupil of the grammar-school system. Unable to progress into the sixth form, unqualified for higher education or an apprenticeship, and unloved at home, the troubled teenager was running out of options. 

If ever a son needed his father to provide some structure to his life, this was the time. Mark was sixteen years old, and for the previous four years his mother and stepfather hadn’t spoken to him about the divorce. They had also failed to mention that Mark’s paternal grandparents were still alive and living in Manchester – as they had been since the day he was born. Maybe Diane felt that she was still protecting Mark from a bad husband and father who had abandoned them when he was just a baby. Whatever her reasons, the timing was fateful. 

At that very moment, forty-year-old John Constantine was preparing to leave England to start a new life in Africa. His parents would never see him again, nor would he ever make contact with his only son. 

It wouldn’t be long before Mark was homeless and living rough in a wood with barely a penny to his name. Yet just seven years later, in October 1977, I drove the van when Mark delivered his first batch of handmade natural cosmetics to Anita Roddick, who had just opened her second Body Shop in Chichester. It was the beginning of a relationship that saw Mark become the major supplier of Body Shop hair and body products over the next ten years, and a leading advocate of cruelty-free cosmetics. 


The man himself! Mark at the 2018 Lush Showcase in Manchester.


As an independent photographer and filmmaker, I recorded the rise of his company from a back bedroom in Mark’s first house to multiple factories employing hundreds of people in Poole; I made films about henna and hair gel, lavender and rose oil, and I remember filming at the purpose-built Body Shop factory when it opened its doors in Littlehampton in December 1986 when Mark was invited to become the head of R & D at The Body Shop. 

However, Mark was not one to work quietly in the background and, after ten years of close collaboration, he agreed to sell to The Body Shop the manufacturing rights to all of the products his company had invented for them. Over a three-year period The Body Shop paid Mark’s company, Constantine & Weir, £9 million to take all their manufacturing in-house – not a bad return for Mark’s initial outlay on a Baby Burco water boiler and some kitchen pans.

Anita and Gordon Roddick were smart enough to recognise Mark as a potential competitor and they tied him to a legally binding agreement not to open any shops on the UK high street before 1994. But at thirty-five years of age, full of energy and ambition, Mark Constantine wasn’t about to retire. Instead, he retained his factories and loyal workforce in Poole and ploughed all the money into a new venture, Cosmetics To Go, a mail-order business that initially took the UK beauty world by storm. 




Once again my cameras captured every episode of this extraordinary and often crazy adventure, which propelled Mark and his partners onto national television. Cosmetics To Go was the beauty version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Mark was Willy Wonka and his staff were the Oompa-Loompas. The British public lapped up the wacky products on offer and the free post and packaging – a great idea if they bought dozens of products at once, but a very bad idea if they bought just one at a time. As Mark himself admitted, ‘if you sell a million products and spend £1 every time you post and package them, you lose a million pounds.’ In 1994 Cosmetics To Go and its parent company Constantine & Weir went into administration. Cosmetics To Go was a great business idea, but ahead of its time; the dot.com era had not yet arrived. 

I’ve never been an employee in any of Mark’s business ventures, simply a supplier of images and occasional friendly advice (which he has largely ignored). Ever since we were boys, I’ve been the yin to his yang: Mark impatient and impulsive, me cautious and practical; Mark the hare, Jeffrey the tortoise. No amount of advice from me could have stopped the runaway train that was Cosmetics To Go. I got off at the last station and then watched it plunge over the cliff. Mark’s innate drive to impress a father that he had never known, and his desire to find him, was pushed to the back of his mind. More years passed while Mark learned the lessons from a failed business, went back to basics, opened one small shop in Poole, and began the slow and steady rise of the global high-street brand Lush

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'Dear John: The Road to Pelindaba' was published by Lush on 24th September 2018, in hardback (RRP £14.95). 

You can find it on uk.lush.com and all UK & Ireland Lush stores, and it’s available to order in all UK bookshops! 




Oh, also maybe check out the Dear John Gorilla perfume, also available at uk.lush.com

Mark Constantine’s ode to his own father, named John, was created before he ever met him. Made with one man in mind, but representative of the idea of how a man smells; a comforting, fatherly scent with notes of coffee, coriander, lime and tobacco. There was a moment during the creation of this perfume in which Mark recalls that he "suddenly realised that it was the way that I thought my father would have smelled."’ 


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