Egyptian billionaire Mohamed Al-Fayed invited the Princess of Wales on his yacht the summer of 1997
Mohamed Al-Fayed was a wealthy Egyptian businessman who once owned the upscale London department store Harrods and the famed Ritz Carlton in Paris. He was also the father of Dodi Al-Fayed, the man Princess Diana was dating at the time of their deaths in 1997.
Al-Fayed wasn’t always an easily digestible person for some. His origin story was shrouded in confusion and misleading details, and the man himself offered different and contradictory versions of his childhood. He and author Samira Khashoggi married in 1954 and welcomed one child, a son they named Dodi. After their divorce, Al-Fayed assumed full custody of their son.
His business exploits were well documented, particularly the purchase of the Ritz in 1979 and House of Fraser, which included Harrods, in 1985. Al-Fayed made the purchases alongside his brothers, Ali and Salah.
The moment the billionaire met the royal family has not been made clear, but by the late '80s, Al-Fayed had introduced himself to Princess Diana. He would maintain a friendship with the Princess of Wales through 1997 and invited Diana and her sons to spend part of her summer aboard his yacht that year — where the princess reconnected with Dodi after meeting him at a polo match in 1986.
Diana's relationship with Dodi and friendship with Al-Fayed is a subject of The Crown's later seasons, the hit Netflix show that premiered in 2016. Salim Daw joined the cast in season 5 as Al-Fayed, acting alongside Elizabeth Debicki (Princess Diana) and Khalid Abdalla (Dodi). Season 6, which premieres on Nov. 16, depicts the final months of Diana's life and the aftermath of the fatal car crash that killed both her and Dodi.
After Al-Fayed's death in 2023, many said that they believed the billionaire never recovered from the loss of his son.
Here is a look at the life of Mohamed Al-Fayed, the father of Dodi Al-Fayed and friend of Princess Diana.
He gave different stories about his childhood
Throughout his life, Al-Fayed gave several varying stories about his childhood and how he grew up. In 1985, The New York Times reported that he hailed from a long line of wealthy Egyptian cotton growers, though that claim was later disproven by British investigators.
According to his 2023 obituary in The New York Times, Al-Fayed was born in 1929. His father, Aly Aly Fayed, was a schoolteacher in Egypt, and he had four siblings.
He married Samira Khashoggi in 1954
Al-Fayed and Samira Khashoggi married in 1954 and welcomed one child together, a son named Emad El-Din Mohamed Abdel Mena’em Fayed. To the world, he would be known as Dodi.
Al-Fayed and Khashoggi were only married for two years. She went on to found Al-Shakirah Magazine and also published several books under a pseudonym.
The businessman received custody of Dodi after the pair’s divorce, though Khashoggi was a regular fixture in Dodi's life. A friend of Dodi’s told The Mirror in 1997, “He was absolutely devoted to Samira and there was hardly a day he didn't talk to her from wherever he was. They'd talk for up to an hour and no matter how beautiful the girl might be he was with at the time, he'd drop her in a second if his mother called.”
He moved to England in the 1970s and bought the Ritz Carlton in Paris
Al-Fayed moved to England in the 1970s and soon began moving in elite social circles. In 1979, he and his brothers bought the Ritz Carlton in Paris for $20 million. He later told Vanity Fair that he kept the Ritz family close to his heart and mind after the purchase.
“When I bought the Ritz, I had in mind to refurbish the hotel in César Ritz’s image — to do things here that would excite me and at the same time make Monsieur Ritz proud of his place if he were to see it today,” he told the magazine. “It took us years, but I’m sure we brought a smile to Monsieur Ritz’s face. It was a joyful experience.”
That renovation didn’t come cheaply. Al-Fayed spent another $50 million on remodeling the hotel to its original state. From 2012 to 2016, he closed the hotel for another round of extensive renovations, per The New York Times.
He bought the parent company of Harrods in 1985
The Ritz wasn’t Al-Fayed’s only sizable purchase. On March 12, 1985, The Guardian reported that the Al Fayed Investment and Trust company bought the House of Fraser, which, among other investments, owned Harrods. The Al-Fayed family had previously controlled 29.9% of the House of Fraser, and the purchase bumped their ownership up to 51% shares.
Al-Fayed purchased the House of Fraser alongside his brothers, Ali and Salah, and Fraser’s directors celebrated their efforts. Chairman Professor Roland Smith said at the time, “We are pleased that the Al Fayed family have secured their majority shareholding in the House of Fraser and look forward to working with them.”
The House of Fraser's businesses included the Army and Navy, Rackhams, Binns, Dingles and Dickins and Jones stores.
He invited Princess Diana on his yacht in 1997
It’s not known exactly how Al-Fayed and Princess Diana met, but the businessman and the royal both attended a 1986 polo match that King Charles played in. Al-Fayed's son Dodi also played in the match. The moment was depicted in season 5 of the Netflix series The Crown.
In the show, Al-Fayed sponsored the match in hopes of meeting Queen Elizabeth. Instead, the monarch pawned him off on Diana, whom he struck up a friendship with.
In the summer of 1997, Al-Fayed invited Diana and her two sons, Prince William and Prince Harry — who were 15 at 12 at the time — to his yacht in St. Tropez. It’s presumed that Diana and Dodi reconnected on that trip, despite the younger Al-Fayed’s engagement to someone else.
He didn’t believe the car crash that killed his son and Diana was an accident
Following the August 1997 car crash that killed Princess Diana, Dodi, and the pair's driver, Henri Paul, Al-Fayed blamed the British royal family for their deaths. He accused Diana's former father-in-law Prince Philip of ordering British security services to assassinate the Princess of Wales to stop her marrying Dodi, a Muslim.
In August 2000, lawyers for Al-Fayed announced the businessman's plans to sue U.S. government agencies that he believed had unreleased information about the fatal crash. ABC reported that in his statement, Al-Fayed said, “I believe they are withholding some of the documents at the request of the British secret services. They cannot afford to let the truth be known because they know exactly where the truth lies.”
However, Al-Fayed abandoned his legal battle after a 2008 British inquest into the deaths of Diana and Dodi. The inquest ruled that the late princess and the film producer were unlawfully killed by the grossly negligent driving of their chauffeur while being pursued through a Paris road tunnel by photographers.
“I’m leaving the rest for God to get my revenge, but I’m not doing anything any more,” he said, according to Reuters. “I’m a father who lost his son and I have done everything for 10 years. But now with the verdict, I am accepting it but with all the reservations which I have mentioned.
He never became a British citizen
Despite his several business ventures and decades of residency in the U.K., Al-Fayed was repeatedly denied British citizenship. After his application was denied for a second time in 1999, The Guardian wrote that he told reporters, “I'm here to stay. It's okay, it's no problem, I'm not desperate, I'm not leaving the country, I'm here forever — I'm staying.”
The outlet also reported that Al-Fayed’s requests for citizenship were denied because of his involvement in a number of controversies. Jack Straw, the home secretary at the time, did not reveal the reasons why Al-Fayed’s citizenship was denied, but it’s believed that Al-Fayed’s insistence that the deaths of his son Dodi and Princess Diana were part of a conspiracy was a factor.
He died in 2023
Al-Fayed died on Aug. 30, 2023, at the age of 94. The news was confirmed by his family, who released a statement that read, “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 on Wednesday, August 30, 2023. He enjoyed a long and fulfilled retirement surrounded by his loved ones.”
He was survived by his wife Heini Wathén, whom he married in 1985. The pair had four children: Jasmine, Camilla, Karim and Omar.
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