Mohamed al-Fayed, the self-made Egyptian billionaire who acquired Harrods department store and propagated the debunked conspiracy theory linking the British royal family to the demise of his son and Princess Diana, has passed away, as confirmed by his family.
Born in Alexandria, Egypt, al-Fayed commenced his career selling carbonated beverages and later worked as a sewing machine salesman. He amassed his family’s wealth through ventures in real estate, shipping, and construction, initially in the Middle East and later expanding into Europe.
Despite his ownership of iconic British establishments like Harrods, Fulham, and the Ritz hotel in Paris, al-Fayed always remained an outsider in the United Kingdom, tolerated but not fully embraced. His relationship with the British government soured when they declined to grant him citizenship, despite his decades-long residency. He often threatened to relocate to France, where he received the Legion of Honour, the highest civilian distinction.
Al-Fayed, known for his charisma, autocratic nature, vindictiveness, and occasional outspokenness, spent a decade attempting to substantiate his claims that Diana and his son Dodi were assassinated during the 1997 car crash in a Paris tunnel while trying to evade paparazzi photographers on motorcycles. These allegations, unsupported by any evidence, implicated Prince Philip, the queen’s husband, in conspiring with Britain’s security services to eliminate Diana, preventing her from marrying a Muslim and bearing his child.
Al-Fayed’s passing occurred a day before the 26th anniversary of Dodi and Diana’s tragic demise. The family statement read, “Mrs. Mohamed Al Fayed, her children, and grandchildren confirm that her beloved husband, their father and grandfather, Mohamed, has peacefully passed away due to old age.”
While known for self-promotion, exaggeration, and boasting, al-Fayed played pivotal roles in significant moments of Britain’s recent history. His contentious acquisition of Harrods in 1985 sparked a bitter business feud, and in 1994, he caused a scandal by revealing that he had paid politicians to ask questions in Parliament on his behalf, leading to the “cash-for-questions” scandal that rocked British politics.
Despite his eccentricities, al-Fayed added a unique touch to his businesses, including proposing that he be mummified in a golden sarcophagus within a glass pyramid atop Harrods. He also adorned the store with a bronze memorial statue of Diana and Dodi dancing beneath the wings of an albatross.
As the owner of Fulham, he installed a larger-than-life, sequined statue of Michael Jackson outside the stadium, even though the singer attended only one match. When criticized, he famously retorted, “If some foolish fans fail to understand or appreciate such a gift, they can go to hell.”
Al-Fayed’s past remained enigmatic, including his date of birth, which he claimed to be in 1933, although a British government inquiry into the Harrods acquisition suggested 1929. He adopted the “al” prefix to his name after becoming a British resident in 1974, earning him the nickname “Phoney Pharaoh” from the satirical magazine Private Eye.
In 2010, after a quarter-century of ownership, al-Fayed sold Harrods to Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund.
His pursuit of British citizenship was rejected in 1995, with al-Fayed attributing this to racial prejudice that kept him on the fringes of acceptance.
Al-Fayed’s life intersected with Princess Diana when his son Dodi began a relationship with her in 1997. Following their vacation together in the south of France, the couple tragically perished in a car crash in a Paris tunnel. Al-Fayed, devastated and consumed by a sense of injustice, invested millions in legal battles to ensure an inquest took place. Despite initially accusing various parties, including the royal family and Prime Minister Blair, of involvement, the jury ultimately ruled that the couple was unlawfully killed due to their chauffeur’s reckless driving.
Al-Fayed subsequently accepted the verdict and ceased his legal efforts to prove a murder conspiracy, stating, “I’m leaving the rest for God to get my revenge.”