Mohamed Al Fayed, the self-made Egyptian billionaire who owned the iconic Harrods department store and claimed that the British royal family was behind the death of his son and Princess Diana, has died at the age of 94, his family announced on Wednesday.
A rags-to-riches story
Al Fayed was born in Alexandria in 1929, the son of a poor schoolteacher. He started his career selling lemonade and sewing machines, before working for the notorious arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia. He moved to Britain in the 1970s and became an adviser to the Sultan of Brunei, one of the world’s richest men.
He amassed a fortune in real estate, shipping, oil, banking, and retail, acquiring Harrods in 1985 for £615 million. He also owned the Ritz hotel in Paris, Fulham football club, and a Scottish castle. He was known for his lavish lifestyle, flamboyant personality, and philanthropic work.
A bitter feud with the establishment
Despite his wealth and influence, Al Fayed was never accepted by the British establishment. He was repeatedly denied UK citizenship and a knighthood, which he blamed on a conspiracy by the government and the royal family. He also accused them of racism and snobbery.
He was involved in several scandals and controversies, such as bribing members of parliament to ask questions on his behalf, suing a former Harrods employee for libel, and clashing with the media mogul Rupert Murdoch. He once said he wanted to be mummified in a golden sarcophagus in a glass pyramid on the roof of Harrods.
A tragic loss and a conspiracy theory
The defining tragedy of Al Fayed’s life came on August 31, 1997, when his eldest son Dodi and Princess Diana died in a car crash in a Paris tunnel while being chased by paparazzi. Al Fayed refused to accept that their deaths were accidental and blamed Prince Philip, the queen’s husband, for ordering their assassination.
He claimed that Diana was pregnant with Dodi’s child and that they were planning to get married. He spent millions of pounds on legal battles and investigations to prove his theory, but failed to convince any official inquiry or court. He also erected two memorials to the couple at Harrods and Fulham.
A legacy of controversy and philanthropy
Al Fayed sold Harrods in 2010 to Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund for £1.5 billion. He said he wanted to spend more time with his family and focus on his charitable foundation, which supported causes such as children’s health, education, and human rights.
He died peacefully of old age on Wednesday, September 1, 2023, according to his family. He is survived by his wife Heini and four children: Karim, Camilla, Omar, and Jasmine. His death came a day before the 26th anniversary of Dodi and Diana’s death.
Al Fayed will be remembered as a controversial figure who challenged the British establishment and never gave up on his quest for justice for his son and Princess Diana.