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From Alexandria to the World

The life & times of Egypt's most famous billionaire

When Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed passed away in the tragic accident during the early hours of August 31st, 1997, Mohamed Al Fayed became a global household name. He not only spent the years until his passing last Wednesday August 30th,  mourning the loss but also fighting the British establishment he blamed for their deaths.

The Beginning…

The eldest of five children, the son of a school teacher was born plain Mohamed Fayed in Alexandria, Egypt and started his career selling soft drinks and Singer sewing machines. His lucky break came in 1952  when he met  Saudi millionaire Adnan Khashoggi. Fayed the salesman flourished at Khashoggi’s import company in Jeddah and opened up connections in influential circles in the Gulf and London. In 1954, he married Khashoggi’s sister Samira, the mother of Dodi. But within two years the marriage failed, as did the business relationship.

The Rise…

By the 1960s, he was a wealthy man whose business associates included Papa Doc Duvalier, Haiti’s notorious dictator. He had founded his own shipping company in Egypt and become the financial adviser to the Sultan of Brunei.

When he moved to the UK in 1974 he added the “Al” to his name and started making headline news. Especially in 1979, when together with his brother Ali, he bought the iconic Ritz Hotel in Paris. He also aquired Balnagown Castle in the Scottish Highlands, a Surrey mansion, a Park Lane apartment block, part of the Rockefeller Center in Manhattan, and a  St Tropez estate. Fayed made himself welcome in Paris with political donations while leasing and restoring the former home of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

In 1980, he defeated the Lonrho group in the battle to buy Harrods, which sparked a feud with Lonrho’s chairman, Tiny Rowland. The Department of Trade and Industry’s report on the row, in 1990, concluded that the Fayeds had lied about their background and their wealth.

The feud with Rowland ended in 1993 with a reconciliation in Harrods food hall but it probably contributed to Al Fayed being refused British citizenship. He viewed the decision as an affront to his dignity.

“Why won’t they give me a passport?” he railed at the time. “I own Harrods and employ thousands of people in this country.”

Harrods became his second home, where he could often be seen joking around with customers. In 2010, after months of denying Harrods was for sale, he sold the business to Qatar Holdings for £1.5bn. Nearly half of the purchase price was used to clear the company’s debts. He was also the owner of Fulham Football Club from 1997 to 2013.

For years Al Fayed had tried to get close to the Royal Family in sponsoring events like the Windsor Horse Show.  He also befriended and appointed Raine Spencer,  step-mother of Princess Diana,  a director of a Harrods subsidiary.

The Tragedy…

Princess Diana had first met Dodi Al Fayed, at a 1986 Polo match in Windsor where his team played against Prince Charles’ team. However, their romance began 11 years later when Diana was invited by Mohamed to vacation at his St. Tropez home. Their relationship was brief but all over the news, until their tragic death on August 31st, 1997 in Paris.

Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed

An inquest jury in 2008 found that Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed had been unlawfully killed by the gross negligence of their driver, Henri Paul, and the paparazzi.  Still bitter over the death of his son, Al Fayed bankrolled a 2011 documentary entitled Unlawful Killing, which reiterated his conspiracy theories about the Paris crash. Although it was shown at the Cannes film festival, legal issues prevented it going on general release.

The Family…

He is survived by his second wife Heini, a former Finish model who he married in 1985 and their children, Jasmine, Karim, Camilla and Omar.

Jasmine the oldest had made a name for herself as a successful fashion designer when she launched her label Jasmine di Milo back in 2003, She is also the chairwoman and controlling stakeholder of the London fashion label Issa, which shot to prominence when Kate Middleton wore one of its sequin dresses during a royal appearance.

After stints as a sales person at Harrod’s, at British Vogue in London, and as an assistant to Anna Wintour in New York, Mohamed’s younger daughter Camilla is now the proud owner of Farmacy, a vegan restaurant in Notting Hill that is based along the lines of the Greek physician Hippocrates’ philosophy of letting “food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food”.

Karim, the oldest son,  suffered from meningitis and has been deaf since he was a toddler. He developed a love of the visual arts taking an interest in photography at the age of 11. In 2010 he launched his first ever exhibition of   panoramic landscapes, from the Scottish highlands to the American wilderness.

Omar, the youngest, is the CEO of Estee, based in Switzerland and Britain, which advocates human space exploration, space colonization, and sustainable human development within the biosphere. He is also a co-founder and CEO of EarthX, a data visualization and mapping company based on NASA’s World Wind Project.

The Farewell…

A Muslim funeral was held yesterday at the London Central Mosque in Regent’s Park. Al Fayed was laid to rest next to his son Dodi in the family mausoleum in Barrow Green Court in Oxted, Surrey.

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