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Inside Mohamed Al-Fayed’s rise from Coca-Cola seller to owner of Harrods & Fulham FC


MOHAMED Al-Fayed once said he planned to be buried on the roof of Harrods, so his department store would become his tomb.

Instead, it ended up becoming home to a shrine to his son Dodi and Princess Diana, killed in a car crash in 1997.

Mohamed Al-Fayed with Diana at a charity dinner at Harrods held in 1996

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Mohamed Al-Fayed with Diana at a charity dinner at Harrods held in 1996Credit: Getty
In 1985, the tycoon and his two younger brothers bought the jewel in their crown: Harrods

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In 1985, the tycoon and his two younger brothers bought the jewel in their crown: HarrodsCredit: AFP
Al-Fayed, pictured with manager Paul Bracewell, bought struggling Fulham FC, saving the club from bankruptcy

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Al-Fayed, pictured with manager Paul Bracewell, bought struggling Fulham FC, saving the club from bankruptcyCredit: PA:Press Association

The Egyptian-born tycoon spent the rest of his life raging against the upper-class society he had once longed to be part of, blaming them for what he believed until his dying day was “murder”.

This was sheer fantasy — but so was almost everything else in his life.

The businessman, who has died aged 94, built his empire on exaggeration and make-believe.

In the process, he became one of Britain’s most flamboyant and eccentric figures.

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Mohamed Abdel Moneim Fayed was born on January 27, 1929, in a rundown part of Alexandria. His father was a school inspector and his mother died when he was four.

As a teenager, he began selling Coca-Cola on the street, before becoming a door-to-door sewing machine salesman.

Then in 1952, aged 23, he encountered a friend of a friend who would change his life.

Future arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi was just 17 at the time, and was helping his father set up a business importing goods from Egypt to Saudi Arabia.

He needed someone to help negotiate contracts and Fayed leaped at the chance.

Khashoggi’s father, the well-connected personal doctor to the Saudi king, was soon marvelling at the young man’s abilities, writing that he “regarded all problems as surmountable”.

The doctor added that, to Fayed, “defeat was inconceivable”.

Thanks to the new employee, the import company made nearly £3million in profit its first year — and Fayed pocketed a ten per cent fee.

By 1954, he was so close to the influential clan he married Kashoggi’s sister Samira, and their son Dodi was born the next year.

He said of the boy’s birth: “It was the most exciting moment of my life.”

But just months later, Fayed confessed to Samira that he had been cheating on her. To his shock, she declared the marriage over.

He won custody of Dodi, but was cast out from Khashoggis’ circle.

Luckily, the Suez Crisis was underway, when access to the canal was blocked by Egypt’s president.

Fayed could see it would mean high demand for other shipping options, and promptly started up his own small shipping business.

He then moved to Geneva, where he made useful banking contacts, and then on to London.

It was there he learned that the rulers of Dubai, then a desert outpost, were trying to get financing to build a harbour and other infrastructure to transform the city’s fortunes.

He announced: “I’ll find the money.” He did, and also soon got himself hugely profitable contracts for the shipping of the supplies needed for the project.

Fayed won the trust of Dubai’s ruling family by saying he was himself a member of Egypt’s exiled royals — and even began calling himself Al-Fayed, indicating non-existent aristocratic links.

By 1967, he was a millionaire. But he craved more than money. He wanted status, too.

During the 1970s he bought a Scottish castle, hired a butler who had previously worked for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and bought the Ritz Hotel in Paris.

In 1985 he and his two younger brothers bought the jewel in their crown: Harrods.

In July that year, aged 56, he married 30-year-old Finnish model Heini Wathen.

They had been together for several years and their third child was on the way, but Fayed believed they should make their relationship formal as he prepared for life at the centre of high society.

He also started making huge donations to charities, particularly to Great Ormond Street Hospital.

But most of his energy went into modernising Harrods, which had become dowdy. In Fayed’s words: “Harrods was a heap of s**t when I bought it.”

Soon he was declaring of the store: “It is a pyramid for me — a monument.”

He added: “I am making plans to be buried on top of the building. I will have the tomb on the roof.”

But he felt the British establishment would never accept him as an equal, and began to believe they were also thwarting his attempts to get British citizenship.

When Labour swept to power in May 1997 in the wake of headlines about Tory sleaze, he was joyous.

He claimed of Tony Blair’s victory: “I have caused maybe 70 or 80 per cent of it, because voters have woken up.”

Weeks later, he bought struggling Fulham FC, saving the club from bankruptcy. Everything seemed to be falling into place.

Then, at a dinner he got talking to Princess Diana, a life-long Harrods fan, and invited her to stay at his villa in St Tropez.

To his delirious surprise, the princess accepted.

She spent two weeks at the villa in mid-July with sons William and Harry, while Fayed quickly bought a yacht where she could have even more privacy.

He also realised she was lonely, so he ordered son Dodi to head to St Tropez. The pair clicked, and began an affair.

The thrilled tycoon told the media: “I give them my blessing. They are both adults.”

But tragedy struck on on August 31 1997, when the couple were killed in a car crash in Paris.

Fayed was woken up in the early hours with the news, and later said: “The minute I heard that this happened, my first thought was, ‘They murdered her, and they took my son with her’.”

The distraught father was soon claiming Prince Philip had ordered the deaths because, against all evidence, Diana was pregnant and the couple had been about to announce their engagement.

He spent the rest of his life arguing that a hit had been carried out by MI6 on the royal orders, to prevent William and Harry having Muslim siblings.

Fayed said: “It could never have been allowed.”

Official rulings that the deaths were caused by his own security staffer Henri Paul speeding while drunk and by the pair not wearing seat belts, were brushed off as part of the establishment conspiracy.

In 1999, Fayed was turned down for British citizenship for the last time.

And in 2010 he sold off the department store that he had once hoped would transform his life.

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In 2014, he threw himself into the campaign for Scottish independence, but he spent most of his final years at his 17th Century home near Oxted, Surrey, spending hours each day sitting beside Dodi’s mausoleum.

Whenever he had the opportunity, he continued to claim his son had been assassinated by “the Dracula family” — the Royals.

Al-Fayed at the Tutankhamun ale launch at Harrods

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Al-Fayed at the Tutankhamun ale launch at HarrodsCredit: Rex
The Harrods boss pictured with the late Queen in 1996

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The Harrods boss pictured with the late Queen in 1996Credit: UK Press
Al-Fayed with Princess Diana and Charles at a polo match in 1987

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Al-Fayed with Princess Diana and Charles at a polo match in 1987Credit: Photographers International



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