Who Is the Real Mohamed Al-Fayed?

Fashion

Spoilers below.

The Crown’s fifth and sixth seasons explore Princess Diana’s relationship with film producer Dodi Fayed, played respectively by Elizabeth Debicki and Khalid Abdalla. While Princess Di remains at the center, the series takes care to dive into Dodi’s backstory and his father, Mohamed Al-Fayed, before portraying their tragic final days.

Season 5, episode 3 “Mou Mou” introduced Mohamed as a young man (Amir El-Masry) in Alexandria, Egypt. He is selling sodas on the street when the Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson make a royal visit to town, leaving him starstruck. Although his father understandably resents the British for occupying Egypt and “[trampling] on our freedoms. Our dignity,” Mohamed finds them aspirational. “I want to match them. I want to be like them. Have power like them,” he says later in his room.

After a time jump, The Crown shows the adult Mohamed (Salim Daw), now a wealthy businessman, in pursuit of that power. He buys the Ritz, attends the same horse shows as the royal family, buys Harrods, and refurbishes the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s country villa in France. He even hires Sydney Johnson, the former equerry to the abdicated King Edward VIII. At the end of the episode, Daw’s Mohamed meets Debicki’s Diana as they’re seated together at a royal horse show, and become fast friends.

Season 6, part 1 delves deeper into their relationship, with him inviting the princess and his son on vacation and on his yacht. He’s portrayed pressuring Dodi to propose to Diana, desperate to become part of the British elite and forge the marriage of the century. While details of the Netflix series are fictionalized, parts of Al-Fayed’s onscreen story are rooted in truth: He was an outsider—a brazen, often outspoken one—who desired to emulate, impress, and eventually be part of the upper crust. But he was repeatedly pushed out; his application for British citizenship was denied multiple times.

Al-Fayed told The New York Times in 1995, “It’s the colonial, imperial fantasy. Anyone who comes from a colony, as Egypt was before, they think he’s nothing. So you prove you’re better than they are. You do things that are the talk of the town. And they think, ‘How can he? He’s only an Egyptian.’”

Here’s what to know about the real-life Al-Fayed.

He’s a billionaire.

Mohamed Fayed—he added Al to his name in the ’70s—was born in Alexandria, Egypt, though his exact birth date is disputed. (The New York Times reports he was born on Jan. 27, 1929.) He married Samira Khashoggi, sister of the arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi, in 1954. The following year, they welcomed a son together, Emad El-Din Mohamed Abdel Mena’em Fayed, a.k.a. Dodi Fayed. The couple divorced in 1956. Not much is known about his early business ventures, but he worked in the Saudi Arabian import business, launched a shipping business, and consulted the Sultan of Brunei in 1966, according to BBC. He then moved to the U.K. in the 1970s.

In 1979, as shown in The Crown, Mohamed and his brother Ali bought the Ritz Paris hotel. At the time, the establishment was not doing well following the death of hotelier Charle Ritz, who died in 1976. His widow Monique decided to sell it three years later, per History Extra. Perhaps his most famous venture is buying the department store Harrods, which he and his brother did in 1985. (This was also the same year he married socialite and model Heini Wathen.) Doing so allowed him access to elite social circles, including events which the royals attended. He sold the store to the Qatari royal family in 2010 for a reported $2.4 billion.

His other business dealings include funding the Oscar-winning film Chariots of Fire via his and Dodi’s production company Allied Stars, and buying the Fulham Football Club in 1997, which sold in 2013 for reported $300 million. As for April 2023, Forbes estimates his net worth to be $2 billion.

dodi al fayed and diana memorial unveiled at harrods

Salim Daw as Mohamed Al-Fayed on The Crown.

Netflix

He renovated “Villa Windsor.”

In 1986, Al-Fayed took a 50-year lease on the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s French home, a 14-room 19th-century villa in the Bois de Boulogne. The state of the villa had deteriorated by the time the Duchess died earlier that year. (The Duke passed in 1972.) Al-Fayed planned to refurbish the estate into a private museum, a place where “historians, members of the British royal family, personalities, friends and important guests of the Ritz” could visit, he told The New York Times. He ultimately spent $12 million on renovations, according to People.

Al-Fayed only met the royal couple once, during a party at the villa in the ’60s, he told the Times. But they left a lasting impression on him, and he recalled “the way they danced and their sense of fun.” He later told People, “I was completely taken by their manner and their warmth.”

Sydney Johnson, a former valet to the Duke for over 30 years, restored the pieces in Al-Fayed’s renovation project. He became a valet for the businessman at the villa after working at the Ritz, per the Times. Al-Fayed called him a “dictionary,” adding to the Times, “He’s a very cultured man. He got all these things out of boxes and safes and storage rooms, and he knows their history.”

He invited Diana and her kids on vacation.

While The Crown depicts Mohamed and Diana’s first meeting at a horse show, they actually met earlier via Diana’s stepmother Raine Spencer, who was on the Harrods board, according to History Extra. While their conversation onscreen was imagined, there was likely some truth behind their discussion about feeling like outsiders—Diana within the royal family and Al-Fayed in the U.K. He applied for British citizenship and was denied twice.

diana at polo

Al-Fayed (far right) at a polo match with Prince Charles and Princess Diana circa 1987.

Princess Diana Archive//Getty Images

In the summer of 1997, he invited Diana and her sons to vacation with him and his family in St. Tropez, on his yacht the Jonikal. This is reportedly where she met and became close with his son, Dodi. They only dated for about a month before they both died in a car crash in Paris in August 1997.

He buried Dodi in a private ceremony.

“Al Fayed’s relationship with Dodi had been complicated,” Tina Brown writes in The Diana Chronicles. “By turns he had dominated and spoiled him, but all his hopes had been sunk in him too. … He would never have aspired to be the lover of the Princess of Wales if his father had not pushed him there.”

After learning of Dodi’s death, Mohamed flew to Paris in a Harrods helicopter. He flew back with the body to Britain that evening, first to Regent’s Park Mosque in central London and then to Muslim cemetery in Woking. Unlike Diana’s widely-broadcasted memorial, Dodi’s funeral was a private ceremony, per the family’s wishes, according to the BBC.

“He’s utterly desolate,” his spokesperson Michael Cole said, per The Washington Post. “This is cruelty laid upon cruelty.”

“I will never be able to reconcile myself to the needless and cruel deaths of two people who were so vibrant, generous and full of life,” Fayed said in a statement days after the crash. “God took their souls to live together in paradise. Now they have peace.”

He fed into conspiracy theories.

In his overwhelming grief, Al-Fayed pointed blame in myriad directions, often fueling conspiracy theories. Among his claims were that the royal family had orchestrated the fatal accident, that MI6 was involved, and that the driver’s blood samples were swapped. (Diana and Dodi’s driver, Henri Paul, who worked for Mohamed, was found to have alcohol in his system at the time of the crash.) The businessman also alleged that Diana was pregnant with Dodi’s child, and that the royal family wouldn’t allow the heir to the throne to have a Muslim relative. He said said in a 60 Minutes Australia interview, “They still don’t accept that Dodi, my son, an Egyptian, a Muslim, can be the stepfather of the future king.”

Even if the Firm did have issues with xenophobia and racism, Fayed’s claims were unfounded. Still, after an inquest found in 2008 that the paparazzi and driver were responsible for the deaths, Fayed maintained, “The most important thing is it is murder.” The former Harrods owner would go on to build a memorial to Diana and Dodi in the London store.

He died in September.

Al-Fayed died on August 30, 2023 at the age of 94. His passing was announced in a statement from his family, which was shared by Fulham FC, the football club he formerly owned.

“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,” the statement read.

He was buried in a mausoleum alongside his son.

This story has been updated.

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