Mohamed al-Fayed, Self-Made Egyptian Billionaire and Harrods Owner, Passes Away
New Delhi, September 1, 2023 – Mohamed al-Fayed, the self-made Egyptian billionaire renowned for his ownership of the iconic Harrods department store and his fervent promotion of the discredited conspiracy theory surrounding the tragic deaths of his son, Dodi, and Princess Diana, has passed away at an advanced age, as confirmed by his family.
Born in the bustling Egyptian city of Alexandria, al-Fayed’s journey to success was marked by humble beginnings. He initially ventured into the world of business by selling fizzy drinks, eventually transitioning to the role of a sewing-machine salesman. It was through sheer determination and hard work that he gradually amassed his family’s wealth, predominantly in real estate, shipping, and construction, first in the Middle East and later expanding his ventures into Europe.
An Outsider in Britain
Despite his ownership of prestigious establishments like Harrods, Fulham, and the Ritz hotel in Paris, al-Fayed always remained somewhat of an outsider in British high society. While tolerated, he was never fully embraced by the British elite. His strained relationship with the British government stemmed from their refusal to grant him citizenship, despite his decades-long residency in the country. France, on the other hand, recognized his contributions by awarding him the Legion of Honour, its highest civilian accolade.
Al-Fayed’s personality was a complex mix of charm, autocracy, vindictiveness, and occasional outspokenness. He dedicated a significant portion of his life, roughly a decade, attempting to substantiate his belief that Diana and Dodi were murdered during a car crash in a Parisian tunnel in 1997 while attempting to evade relentless paparazzi photographers on motorbikes.
The Unsubstantiated Conspiracy
It is crucial to note that Al-Fayed’s conspiracy theory lacked credible evidence, as revealed by the official inquest into Diana’s tragic demise. His claims included Diana being pregnant with Dodi’s child and allegations that Prince Philip, the Queen’s husband, had orchestrated the British security services to eliminate her to prevent her union with a Muslim and the birth of their child. Despite these unsubstantiated allegations, al-Fayed continued to champion his cause.
Regrettably, on the 26th anniversary of Dodi and Diana’s untimely deaths, al-Fayed passed away, peacefully, as confirmed by his family. The family’s official statement reads, “Mrs. Mohamed Al Fayed, her children, and grandchildren wish to confirm that her beloved husband, their father, and their grandfather, Mohamed, has passed away peacefully of old age.”
A Controversial Figure in British History
While known for his self-invention, exaggeration, and penchant for making grand statements, Mohamed al-Fayed played a pivotal role in significant moments in Britain’s recent history. His hostile takeover of Harrods in 1985 ignited one of the most acrimonious business feuds in British history. In 1994, he caused a scandal by revealing that he had made payments to politicians to raise questions in parliament on his behalf, an episode infamously known as the “cash-for-questions” scandal.
Much like many other billionaires, al-Fayed often defied convention. His desire to be mummified in a golden sarcophagus within a glass pyramid atop Harrods’ roof stands as a testament to his eccentricity. He also installed a somewhat kitschy bronze memorial statue of Diana and Dodi dancing beneath the wings of an albatross within the store.
Harrods Ownership and British Citizenship
Al-Fayed’s early life details, including his date of birth, remained shrouded in mystery. While he claimed to have been born in British-ruled Egypt in 1933, a British government inquiry related to the Harrods takeover suggested a birth year of 1929. Al-Fayed became a British resident in 1974, adopting the “al” in his name, a move often seen as an attempt at self-aggrandizement, earning him the nickname “Phoney Pharaoh” from the satirical magazine Private Eye.
His acquisition of Harrods in 1985, alongside his brothers, marked a significant chapter in his life. He had hoped that the purchase of this iconic store would lead to his acceptance within British society. However, it instead resulted in a series of fierce disputes and legal inquiries. Roland “Tiny” Rowland, a rival businessman, accused al-Fayed and his brothers of misrepresenting their wealth during the Harrods acquisition.
The End of an Era
After a quarter-century of ownership, al-Fayed eventually sold Harrods to Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund in 2010. His request for British citizenship was denied in 1995, with claims of racial bias keeping him at the periphery of social acceptance. In a prior revelation in 1994, al-Fayed had embarrassed the British government by disclosing that he had provided gifts and payments to politicians in exchange for their parliamentary inquiries on his behalf.
The “cash-for-questions” scandal had profound implications, contributing to the downfall of four politicians, including one minister, and weakening the Conservative Party, which ultimately lost to Labour leader Tony Blair in a landslide election in 1997.
Diana and Dodi: A Fateful Summer
During that pivotal summer, al-Fayed’s son, Dodi, embarked on a relationship with Princess Diana, who had divorced Prince Charles, the British throne’s heir. The couple’s images, captured by British tabloids while holidaying on a yacht in the south of France, dominated headlines.
Tragically, their romance was cut short in Paris, where they lost their lives in a high-speed car crash in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel. The chauffeur, under the influence of alcohol, was attempting to escape pursuing paparazzi when the accident occurred.
Besieged by grief and a profound sense of injustice, Mohamed al-Fayed invested millions in legal battles to ensure an inquest took place. When the inquest commenced in London, a decade after the tragedy, al-Fayed accused various entities, including the royal family, Prime Minister Blair, Diana’s sister Sarah, the French embalmers responsible for Diana’s body, and the Paris ambulance drivers, of involvement.
An Unresolved Mystery
However, the jury’s verdict declared the couple’s deaths as unlawful, primarily due to the chauffeur’s reckless driving. Al-Fayed, in response, acknowledged the verdict and ceased further legal attempts to prove their murder. “I’m leaving the rest for God to get my revenge,” he solemnly declared.
In conclusion, Mohamed al-Fayed’s life was one marked by controversy, ambition, and a relentless pursuit of justice for his son and Princess Diana. While his legacy is mixed, his influence on the worlds of business and British society is undeniable. As time goes on, his story will remain a complex chapter in history, forever linked to the tragic events of that fateful night in Paris.