Mohamed Al-Fayed, the former proprietor of the prestigious Harrods department store in London, whose son, Dodi Fayed, tragically lost his life in a car accident with Princess Diana, has passed away at the age of 94, as confirmed by his family. His departure marks the end of a life marked by business success, controversies, and enduring sorrow.
A Self-Made Tycoon and Sports Enthusiast
Born in Alexandria, Egypt, on January 27, 1929, Al-Fayed’s journey to success began with ventures in shipping. He made his way to the United Kingdom in the 1960s, where he embarked on a mission to build his business empire. His acquisition of a 30% stake in the House of Fraser group from rival tycoon Tiny Rowland in 1984 marked the start of his retail endeavors, which culminated in the purchase of the iconic Harrods in 1985 for £615 million (equivalent to approximately £1.8 billion or CAD 3 billion today).
However, this acquisition was not without controversy. An investigation by the Department of Trade and Industry revealed that Al-Fayed and his brother had misrepresented their wealth and backgrounds during the purchase. Despite this, they contested the allegations.
Controversies and Legal Battles
Throughout his life, Al-Fayed was at the center of several major controversies. The “cash for questions” scandal in the 1990s, which involved allegations that he had provided envelopes of cash and extravagant gifts to British lawmakers in exchange for parliamentary questions, was one such incident. The scandal resulted in the resignation of an MP and a successful libel case against another.
Al-Fayed also played a pivotal role in revealing the involvement of cabinet minister Jonathan Aitken in a Saudi arms deal, which ultimately led to Aitken’s imprisonment for perjury and perverting the course of justice.
Accusations Surrounding Diana’s Death
One of the most significant chapters in Al-Fayed’s life revolved around the tragic car crash that claimed the lives of his son, Dodi, and Princess Diana on August 31, 1997, in Paris. Al-Fayed believed that their deaths were not accidental and accused the British establishment, including Prince Philip, of orchestrating a conspiracy due to their disapproval of Diana dating an Egyptian and a Muslim. He alleged that Diana was pregnant and planning to marry Dodi.
In 2008, Al-Fayed listed an array of individuals, including Prince Philip, Prince Charles, former Prime Minister Tony Blair, and others, as alleged conspirators during an inquest into the deaths. However, the official conclusion of the inquest attributed the tragic incident to the reckless actions of their driver and pursuing paparazzi.
Legacy and Business Ventures
Despite the controversies, Al-Fayed left a lasting legacy. He sold Harrods in 2010 to Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund for a reported £1.5 billion, but his connection to the store was so profound that he once expressed a desire to have his body displayed in a glass mausoleum on the Harrods roof.
Additionally, Al-Fayed ventured into football, notably purchasing Fulham Football Club in 1997 and later agreeing to let Kevin Keegan, the club’s manager, take over as the England national team manager in 1999.
A Fond Farewell
Mohamed Al-Fayed’s death brings to a close a life filled with triumphs, controversies, and unrelenting sorrow. While his claims surrounding Diana’s death sparked intense debate, his business acumen and enduring presence in British public life remain undeniable. He is survived by his wife, Heini Wathén, and their children: Jasmine, Karim, Camilla, and Omar. His impact on the worlds of business, sport, and philanthropy will not be forgotten.