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Last Updated:  Saturday, 29 March, 2003, 09:54 GMT
Profile: Mohamed Al Fayed
Mohamed Al Fayed
The Harrods boss has always been a controversial figure

Mohamed Al Fayed's decision to leave Britain "with a heavy heart" - if he abides by it - will bring to an end a colourful 35 years of residence in the country.

Not only is he one of the highest profile shop owners in the UK, but the death of his son alongside Diana, Princess of Wales, thrust him further into the public spotlight which he has been dancing in and out of for years.

The loss of his son led to Mr Al Fayed feeling a deep sense of injustice, and several times he has pointed the finger at those he holds responsible for the accident.

Mr Al Fayed believes the Paris crash resulted from a conspiracy, another example of the barriers he constantly faced to gain acceptance into British society.

Why won't they give me a passport? I own Harrods and employ thousands of people in this country
Mohamed al-Fayed
Ever since arriving in the early 1970s, Mr Al Fayed has barely concealed his desire for acceptance into the establishment of his adopted country.

It is an ambition that has seen him donate millions to British charities and assume control of Harrods, the department store which was once a by-word for Britishness itself.

He resurrected the satirical magazine Punch and also moved into the mainstream British pursuit of football, buying Fulham FC.

In 1999 he even offered up the club's manager Kevin Keegan when the English national team was managerless.

Yet, like an over-zealous schoolboy desperate to muscle into a select gang, it seems the harder Mr Al Fayed tried for acceptance, the more he was brushed off.

He was born in Alexandria, Egypt, the son of a poor school teacher. Fittingly, for a man synonymous with controversy, even his birth date is disputed.

A Department of Trade inquiry into his takeover of the House of Fraser group gave it as 27 January 1929. Yet, the logbook of the rich and famous, Who's Who, lists him as a full four years younger.

His career began with menial jobs, from selling Coca-Cola on the streets of his home city to working as a sewing machine salesman.

Fiercely ambitious

The young Mr Fayed - the "Al" was added in the 1970s - oozed ambition and his lucky break came when he met businessman Adnan Khashoggi, who employed him in his Saudi Arabian import business.

Back in Egypt, he launched his own shipping business, before becoming an advisor to one of the world's richest men, the Sultan of Brunei, in 1966.

Already a wealthy and successful man, Mr Al Fayed moved to Britain in the 1970s.

He joined the board of the mining conglomerate Lonrho in 1975, but left nine months later after a disagreement.

It was the seed of a long-running feud between Mr Al Fayed and the head of Lonrho, the late Tiny Rowland.

In 1979, with his brother Ali, Mr Al Fayed bought the Paris Ritz Hotel.

The Al Fayeds' next target became Harrods, at that time subject to a Lonrho takeover campaign. In 1985, the brothers succeeded in clinching a 615m takeover bid.

Report uncovers lies

But Rowland refused to accept defeat, mounting a bitter campaign against the Al Fayeds which resulted in a Department of Trade inquiry.

The subsequent report, issued in 1990, concluded the Al Fayeds had lied about their background and wealth.

"We are satisfied the image they created between November 1984 and March 1985 of their wealthy Egyptian ancestors was completely bogus."

The feud with Rowland appeared to end in 1993, when the pair came together for the cameras in Harrods food hall.

Christine and Neil Hamilton face the press after losing their High Court claim
The Hamiltons lost their libel battle
But Rowland later accused his business rival of breaking into a safety deposit box at the store. Without admitting responsibility, Mr Al Fayed settled the dispute with Rowland's wife after his death.

In August 2002, Mr Al Fayed lost a High Court damages action against the Metropolitan Police for false imprisonment resulting from this accusation.

It has been suggested the feud with Rowland contributed to his being refused British citizenship the first time.

He viewed that refusal as an affront, saying: "Why won't they give me a passport? I own Harrods and employ thousands of people in this country."

Further attempts to gain British citizenship have also failed.

In 1999, his application for a UK passport was rejected by Home Secretary Jack Straw, and he failed to overturn this on appeal.

Wealthy benefactor

This is despite Mr Al Fayed having four British children by his second wife and paying millions in tax. He has also given millions to charities, such as the Great Ormond Street Hospital, and financed films, including Chariots of Fire.

After his first passport refusal, Mr Al Fayed revealed he had paid two Conservative ministers - Neil Hamilton and Tim Smith - to ask questions related to his interests, in the House of Commons. Both left the government in disgrace.

He claimed another political scalp in Jonathan Aitken, the cabinet minister who resigned after the Harrods boss revealed he had been staying free at the Ritz in Paris at the same time as Saudi arms dealers.

When, in 1997, it emerged Dodi had become a close friend of Diana, a new avenue appeared to be opening to Mr Al Fayed's acceptance by the British establishment.

But everything changed in 1997 when Dodi and the princess were killed while being driven and guarded by Mr Al Fayed's employees. The high alcohol level in driver Henri Paul's blood must have embarrassed Mr Al Fayed, but he laid the blame elsewhere.

This emerged in the High Court libel trial brought by Mr Hamilton - which the former MP eventually lost - following comments the Harrods boss made on a Channel 4 programme in 1997.

In court, the Harrods owner accused the Duke of Edinburgh of masterminding a conspiracy to kill the Princess of Wales and his son.

The case saw highly personal accusations flying in both directions.

It has been described as one of the most colourful in recent memory, an epithet in keeping with Mr Al Fayed's public profile.

But whether it made the millionaire more acceptable to the British society is another matter.




SEE ALSO:
Al Fayed to quit UK
28 Mar 03 |  England
Tigana set for Fulham exit
26 Mar 03 |  Fulham
Fayed loses police damages claim
13 Aug 02 |  England


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