Mohamed Al-Fayed, the outspoken Egyptian tycoon who transformed the fortunes of two London institutions, the Harrods department store and Fulham Football Club, and waged a war of words with Britain’s royals after his son was killed in a car crash alongside Diana, Princess of Wales, has died, according to a statement from his family. He was 94.
“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 family statement, which was released by Fulham FC on Friday, said.
Al-Fayed forced his way into London’s high society by purchasing a number of lavish establishments after arriving in the UK in the 1970s, and also owned the storied Ritz Hotel in Paris for four decades.
But he proved an increasingly controversial figure during his public fight for British citizenship, and even more so after the death of Diana and his son, Dodi Fayed, in Paris in 1997.
Al-Fayed for decades insisted the pair were murdered, despite inquiries finding otherwise, and was scornful towards the British royal family in his later life.
Born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1929, Al-Fayed seized the entrepreneurial opportunities handed to him during his brief marriage to Samira Khashoggi, a Saudi author and sister of billionaire arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi.
After working with Adnan Khashoggi and setting up his own shipping company, Al-Fayed moved to London and began piecing together an expansive real estate portfolio that focused on luxury destinations.
In 2021 his net worth was around $1.8 billion, according to Forbes. His businesses interests included Punch Magazine, Kurt Geiger, Manhattan skyscraper 75 Rockefeller Plaza, and the Hyde Park Residence block of luxury apartments in London.
But the jewel in his billion-dollar crown was the famed Harrods department store, which spreads across an entire block of London’s prestigious Mayfair neighborhood and has served as the city’s most glamorous shopping destination for decades.
Al-Fayed’s heavily publicized bid for the House of Fraser group, which included the store, saw him going head-to-head with controversial British tycoon Roland “Tiny” Rowland, and the pair became engaged in several rounds of public mudslinging.
Ultimately, Al-Fayed purchased the group in a $842 million deal. He would frequently compare the renowned department store to one of the world’s ancient wonders. “Harrods is my pyramid,” he told CNN in 2004.
Meanwhile, the tycoon became as famous for his bristly relationship with the British establishment as he was for his investments.
For decades he publicly fought for British citizenship, a pursuit that began when Rowland raised questions in public about the source of his income. Then, in 1994, he sparked a political scandal when he named British lawmakers who had accepted money from him in return for asking questions in Parliament on his behalf.
After 1997, when a car crash claimed the lives of his son and Diana, Al-Fayed would frequently sling insults at the British royal family and became persona non grata among parts of the country’s elite.
“I live in a country where I feel sorry for the ordinary people and the masses of the people who live in this country. Their destiny and their human rights are kidnapped by gangsters and people who call themselves the establishment,” he once told CNN.
At the inquest into Diana’s death in 2008, he called the group a “Dracula family.” He pledged in vain for years to find evidence that countered the official conclusions about the car crash that killed the princess, telling the same court he would not rest “until I die,” even if he lost “everything to find the truth.”
His relationship with the royal family was depicted the fifth season of “The Crown” last year.
Al-Fayed was questioned by police in 2008 in relation to a sex assault allegation that he denied, a Harrods spokesperson said at the time. He eventually sold the store to the Qatari royal family in 2010, for a reported $2.25 billion.
The tycoon also became a major player in the world’s most popular sport, purchasing London’s oldest football club, Fulham, when they were languishing in England’s lower leagues.
At times he could barely resist his showy and opulent tendencies – such as when he erected a golden statue of Michael Jackson at Fulham’s Craven Cottage stadium, a tribute to his pop superstar friend.
But the team’s fans remain grateful for the financial investments that drove the side from the doldrums of the English game into the Premier League and a major European final; the tycoon’s name is still sung weekly on the terraces at Fulham matches, at least ten years after he sold the club.
Al-Fayed had six children, including Dodi and the environmentalist entrepreneur Omar Fayed.