Looking Back at Mohamed Al Fayed's Friendship with Princess Diana

·7 min read
Photo credit: Mike Marsland - Getty Images
Photo credit: Mike Marsland - Getty Images

Mohamed Al Fayed has long been a prominent, and often controversial figure in Britain. The former owner of the iconic Harrods department store in London, the billionaire has counted, among his many assets over the years, the Ritz Hotel in Paris, the Fulham football club, a Parisian villa that once belonged to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and a 65,000 acre estate in Scotland. However, to many, he may be best known as the father of Dodi Al Fayed, the boyfriend of Princess Diana's who died alongside her in the tragic car crash that took her life in 1997.

Here, a look inside the life of the man who introduced Dodi and Diana.

Early life

Over the years, Fayed (the "al" was reportedly added to his name after he moved to England in the 1970s) has given various accounts of his childhood, including that he comes from a line of wealthy Egyptian cotton growers and was raised by an English nanny, however these claims, along with the claim that he was born in 1933, were found to have been false, per a report from the British Department of Trade and Industry. The report asserted that he was actually born in 1929. His father appears to have been either a school teacher or school inspector.

In 1954, he married Samira Khashoggi (sister of Saudi Arabian arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi) with whom he had one child, Emad El-Din Mohamed Abdel Mena’em Fayed—better known as Dodi. The couple later divorced.

For a time, he helmed a shipping business, before, in the 1960s, becoming an advisor to the Sultan of Brunei, who was then frequently listed as one of the wealthiest men in the world. In the '70s, Fayed moved to England, where he would spend much of the rest of his life.

Photo credit: Bertrand Rindoff Petroff - Getty Images
Photo credit: Bertrand Rindoff Petroff - Getty Images

Fayed briefly worked for the mining conglomerate Lonrho, and, in 1979, acquired the famed Ritz Hotel in Paris.

He married Heini Wathen a Finnish model and actress, in 1985—the same year he would add the department store Harrods to his collection of assets. The couple have four children together.

In 1985 he purchased Harrods' parent company

In March of that year, Al Fayed Investment and Trust—a privately-owned company helmed by Fayed and his younger brothers, Ali and Salah—acquired controlling interest of the House of Fraser, the parent company of Harrods, as well as 100 other department stores, for approximately $842 million, according to reporting from the time.

The sale was a contentious one—Fayed beat out a bid from Lonrho, where he had previously worked, to gain control of Harrods. Lonrho, headed by Fayed's former confidant Roland "Tiny" Rowland, went on to contend that the Fayeds got the deal approved by lying about their means, including a claim that they transferred hundreds of millions of dollars to their own accounts from the Sultan of Brunei, using a power of attorney the sultan had granted the previous year. The sultan and the Fayeds roundly denied such claims.

Photo credit: Mirrorpix - Getty Images
Photo credit: Mirrorpix - Getty Images

A series of lawsuits and investigations followed, including a report by the UK's Department of Trade and Industry which found that "the applicants had dishonestly misrepresented their origins, their wealth, their business interests and their resources to the Secretary of State, the Office of Fair Trading, the press, the HOF Board and HOF shareholders and their own advisers," in their bid to buy the House of Fraser.

Nonetheless, Fayed remained at the head of Harrods for 25 years, until he sold off the department store and retired in 2010.

Is Mohamed Al Fayed a British citizen?

Though Fayed has applied to become a British citizen at least twice, his applications have consistently been denied.

In 1994, Fayed spoke out to name prominent British politicians who he said had taken money or benefited from free stays at his Ritz Hotel, evidently as retribution for the failure of his citizenship application. "I did it to take my revenge, to show people who really runs this country, what quality they are," he told Vanity Fair the following year. "These days it's only the trash people."

Photo credit: Princess Diana Archive - Getty Images
Photo credit: Princess Diana Archive - Getty Images

Dodi and Diana

While it's not entirely clear when and where Fayed first met Princess Diana, his sponsorship of a number of charities and events attended by the royals over the years certainly put the two in one another's orbits. "Diana is so easygoing with Mohamed. . . . Mohamed is not one of those who's overwhelmed by her. They spark off each other very well," Michael Cole, then director of public affairs at Harrods told Vanity Fair in 1995.

In the summer of 1997, Fayed invited the princess to join him, along with Prince William and Prince Harry on his yacht, the Jonikal, in the south of France. During that trip, Diana grew closer with his oldest son, Dodi, a film producer for the family's company, which produced, among other films, the 1981 Best Picture Oscar winner Chariots of Fire. The two began dating, but the romance was infamously brief. On August 31, 1997, Diana and Dodi were both killed, along with the driver of their car, Henri Paul, in a crash in Paris after leaving the Ritz Hotel.

For years following their deaths, Fayed kept up a campaign insisting that the crash was not an accident. He hired his own investigators to look into the incident, and appealed the findings of the official French investigation into the matter—which determined that the crash was an accident—on multiple occasions.

Photo credit: David Lodge - Getty Images
Photo credit: David Lodge - Getty Images

Fayed became a vocal proponent of a theory that the British royal family was somehow involved in the deaths of Diana and Dodi, stating that they were motivated by the desire to cover up that Diana was pregnant with Dodi's child at the time of her death, and that the two had intended to announce their plans to marry the day after the crash. Those close to Diana have consistently asserted that claims of Diana's pregnancy and plans to marry Dodi are false.

In November 2008, Fayed read a written statement before the Royal Courts of Justice, testifying, "She told me that she knew Prince Philip and Prince Charles were trying to get rid of her." Per the New York Times, he added, "They cleared the decks. They murdered her."

Fayed also reportedly funded a film titled Unlawful Killing, which was screened during the 2011 Cannes Film Festival (though it was not actually an official selection for the festival.) Purporting to tell the true story of a coverup surrounding Diana's death, the film was shelved the following year after failing to secure insurance for a US distribution due to concerns over potential lawsuits.

Photo credit: Bruno Vincent - Getty Images
Photo credit: Bruno Vincent - Getty Images

What is he doing now?

In 2010, it was announced that Fayed had sold Harrods to Qatar Holdings for £1.5 billion. The move came as a surprise to many—Mohamed was famously attached to the department store, and had even spoken of wanting to be entombed on the roof of the building after his death. Harrods was also home to a display in honor of Dodi and Diana, including a bronze statue of the couple dancing. (The statue was reportedly returned to Fayed in 2018.)

When the news of the sale was initially revealed, a spokesperson said, "After 25 years as chairman of Harrods, Fayed has decided to retire and to spend more time with his children and grandchildren." However, in a later interview, Fayed himself stated that his decision came in the wake of a struggle to get a dividend approved by the government-assigned trustee of the brand's pension fund.

"It came to a moment where I felt completely disillusioned," he told the Evening Standard. "Of course it makes me sad ... But first of all I can't take this. I am 77 years old, right. I have children, I have grandchildren, you know ... I have done it. And time for me now to rest. And enjoy."

In 2013, he also sold the ownership of Fulham Football Club, which he had first acquired in 1997, to U.S. auto parts billionaire Shahid Khan for a reported $300 million.

As of August 29, 2022, Forbes estimated his net worth at approximately $1.9 billion.

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