Businessman Mohamed Al Fayed was a memorable figure who often courted controversy throughout his storied career.
The death of the Egyptian tycoon was confirmed by his family in a statement released through Fulham Football Club, which he once owned. In the statement, his family said: “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. The family have asked for their privacy to be respected at this time.”
Al Fayed was perhaps best known for being the father of Dodi, the partner of Princess Diana killed in the fatal car crash in Paris 26 years ago. However, before and after this, he was no stranger to moves which raised eyebrows.
NationalWorld takes a look back at some of the most memorable, and at times controversial, moments of his life.
Buying The Ritz Hotel in Paris and Harrods
After moving to the UK in the 1960s, Al Fayed made moves to begin building his business empire. As well as becoming a key player in transforming Dubai into a playground for the wealthy after meeting the then ruler of the city Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Al Fayed's most notable business moves in the 1970s and 1980s were the acquisition of the famed Ritz Hotel in Paris and the legendary London department store Harrods.
He purchased The Ritz in 1979 for $30m. He owned the hotel in the French capital until his death and throughout his time as owner oversaw the continued development of the hotel. The hotel would be where his son Dodi and his partner Princess Diana would stay during the last hours of their lives.
However, his most notable purchase came in 1985, when he became owner of the department store Harrods. Having owned a 30% stake in the House of Fraser group, which included Harrods, Al Fayed and his brothers, Ali and Salah, bought out the remaining 70% of the group for £615m.
The acquisition was nothing short of controversial however, with former majority stakeholder Roland ‘Tiny' Rowland accused the Al Fayed brothers of lying about their background and called on the government to investigate the family. After an investigation was completed, the Department of Trade and Industry criticised the family but stopped short of taking any action against them.
Al Fayed remained the private owner of Harrods until 2010, when he sold the store to the Qatari royal family for £1.5bn.
Renovating Villa Windsor
In 1986, Al Fayed took over the lease of a property known as Villa Windsor in Paris, following the death of Wallis Simpson, the wife of the late Edward VIII. With the property having been returned to the city of Paris following her death, Al Fayed signed a 50-year lease on the villa at 1m francs per year under the condition that he spent at least 30m to renovate the run-down home.
He, alongside Sydney Johnson, the former valet of the Duke of Windsor, worked to renovate the entire property and the possessions formerly owned by the Duke and his wife inside. Having the official name 4 route du Champ d'Entraînement’, Al Fayed renamed the property Villa Windsor upon its completion.
The restored items inside the villa, many of which had a personal value to the British Royal Family including the desk at which the former King Edward VIII had signed abdication documents were sold off in an auction in 1998. The identity of the buyers were never revealed but all items are believed to have been bought by members of the Royal Family.
Death of Dodi Al Fayed and Princess Diana
In July 1997, Dodi, Al Fayed’s son, became romantically linked with Diana, Princess of Wales following her divorce from the former Prince, and now King, Charles in 1996. Al Fayed and Diana had first met during a polo match sponsored by Harrods in 1986.
The businessman hosted Diana and her two sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, in the south of France in mid-1997. The famous royal spent time on his 195ft yacht named ‘Jonikal’ and the image of her sitting alone on the yacht’s diving board became an iconic image of Diana.
In the early hours of 31 August 1997, Dodi and Diana were killed after a chase involving paparazzi as they attempted to leave The Ritz Hotel in Paris. The pair were in a black Mercedes-Benz when it crashed in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in the capital. Dodi died at the scene, while Diana died after being transferred to hospital.
In 1998, Al Fayed spoke about his belief that the death of Diana and his son was the result of a conspiracy by the British establishment to stop the Princess from marrying a Muslim man. He accused MI6 of orchestrating the crash on the instructions of Prince Phillip.
He attempted to mount a legal challenge to prove his theories, but his claims were dismissed by a French judicial investigation. In 2006, a Metropolitan Police inquiry, titled Operation Paget, also concluded that the claims were unfounded having found no evidence of conspiracy.
Al Fayed also erected two memorials to the pair in his Harrods department store, including a photo memorial flanked with a wine glass smudged with lipstick used by Diana at their final dinner and a ring purchased by Dodi the day before their deaths on display from 1998. The famous ‘Innocent Victims’ statue, which depicted Dodi and Diana both reaching for a bird, was displayed in the store from 2005 to 2018, with it being returned to the Al Fayed family thereafter.
Fulham FC and the Michael Jackson statue
In 1997, Al Fayed became the owner of London football club Fulham FC after buying the club for £6.25m. Throughout his time as owner, the club - which played in what is now known as League One and was then the Second Division - aimed to get to the Premier League within five years.
In 2001, the club achieved promotion with Al Fayed achieving his goal with one year to spare.
However, controversy arose when the owner erected a statue of American singer Michael Jackson outside the stadium at Craven Cottage in 2011. Jackson was a friend of Al Fayed and had visited the stadium to attend a game in 1999 against Wigan Athletic.
Following backlash towards the statue, Al Fayed reportedly told supporters: "If some stupid fans don't understand and appreciate such a gift this guy gave to the world they can go to hell. I don't want them to be fans.”
The statue was removed by the club’s newest owners in 2013, after Al Fayed sold the club to Shahid Khan in a deal reportedly worth £1.5bn. The statue was then donated to National Football Museum by Al Fayed before being removed from display due to allegations of child abuse made against Jackson in the 2018 documentary Leaving Neverland.
Desire for British citizenship
Throughout the 1990s, Al Fayed repeatedly attempted to fully ingratiate himself as a British citizen. However, his attempts would be futile, failing multiple times.
His first attempt came in 1993 but he was thwarted by former Home Office minister Charles Wardle. In a surprise move however, Wardles joined the Harrods board of directors in 2000 despite the episode.
Al Fayed tried again in 1999. In his second attempt, Al Fayed had hoped to join his brother, Ali, in gaining citizenship. However, the then-Home secretary Jack Straw declared Al Fayed unfit for a passport.
He appealed against the decision stating that Straw had been biased when making his decision. His appeal was dismissed by Lords Justice Nourse, Kennedy and Rix.
From his restoration of Villa Windsor to the relationship between his son and Princess Diana, Al Fayed was said to have craved the approval of the establishment throughout his life. He spent the majority of his life living in the UK, but never gained the full recognition or approval for the British establishment he reportedly yearned for.