The owner of Waterstones is among a pack of bidders circling The Body Shop after its Brazilian owner hoisted a for sale sign above the cosmetics retailer.
Sky News has learnt that Elliott Advisors, the investment firm best-known for its activist campaigns against the boards of some of the world's biggest companies, tabled an indicative bid for The Body Shop in the last few weeks.
This weekend, it was unclear whether Elliott remained in contention to buy the chain, which has been put up for sale by Natura, its owner since 2017.
City sources said the auction, which is being handled by bankers at Morgan Stanley, was proceeding at pace, with Natura said to be keen to reach a provisional agreement on a sale by the end of next month.
Elliott, which was among the parties initially involved in the auction of Manchester United Football Club, has become increasingly active as a private equity investor in recent years.
It owns Barnes & Noble and Waterstones, the book retailers, and has backed Claire's, the fashion accessories chain.
The firm was also among the suitors for Cineworld, the debt-ridden cinema operator, earlier this year.
Founded in 1976 by the environmental campaigner Anita Roddick and husband Gordon, The Body Shop still retains a big presence on British high streets.
It was owned by L'Oreal, the cosmetics giant, prior to its sale to Natura, but has struggled to achieve profitable growth.
Elliott declined to comment.