Billionaire Tycoon Mohamed Al-Fayed Passes Away At 94

Mohamed Al-Fayed,  the billionaire and former owner of Harrods, passed away peacefully from old age last August 30 in the presence of his loved ones.

To the unfamiliar, Mohamed Al-Fayed was a billionaire tycoon best known for having owned the UK’s top luxury department store, Harrods. He was also the owner of the Fulham Football Club (FC) and the Ritz Hotel in Paris. However, those familiar with the history of the British monarchy may know Al-Fayed beyond his position as a tycoon. He also happened to be the father of Dodi Al-Fayed—the romantic partner of Princess Diana who died in the same tragic automobile accident that took her life in August 1997. 

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Mohamed Al-Fayed in 2011 at the Fulham Football ground
Mohamed Al-Fayed in 2011 at the Fulham Football ground/Photo by Abi Skipp via Wikimedia Commons

Recently, Al-Fayed’s family released a statement confirming the tycoon’s passing at the age of 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,” read the announcement. “He enjoyed a long and fulfilling retirement surrounded by his loved ones.” 

After his passing, Al-Fayed was buried in a London mosque next to his son Dodi. He has four other children with Finnish socialite and model, Heini Wathén.  

As of August 2022, the official Forbes list of Arab billionaires stated that Al-Fayed’s networth was worth $2.1 billion. This made him the 11th richest person in the Middle East, and the 1445th in the world. His businesses covered the shipping, banking, oil, retail and construction, and property industries, as per a report from Barron’s

Working His Way to the Top

Al-Fayed was born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1929, and was the eldest of five children as per The Guardian. His father was a school inspector, and Al-Fayed spent much of his youth selling beverages and Singer sewing machines. He made his big break when he entered a business partnership with Adnan Khashoggi—a well-known doctor and arms dealer. 

Khashoggi gave Al-Fayed the opportunity to work as a salesman in his shipping company in Jeddah, as part of his Saudi Arabian import business according to the BBC and The Guardian. He also married Khashoggi’s sister and the mother of Dodi, Samira, in 1954. 

While the marriage and business relationship eventually dissolved, Al-Fayed would go on to establish his own shipping business and form many more connections throughout his careers in Haiti, Dubai, Paris, and London. In 1966, he became the advisor of the Sultan of Brunei—one of the world’s richest men, as per the BBC report

He eventually moved to London in 1974 and purchased the prestigious Ritz hotel in Paris for £20 million, alongside his brother Ali. Later on in 1985, he would buy the famous luxury department store, Harrods, for £615 million. Though Al-Fayed hadn’t been in the limelight during the earlier parts of his career, things started to change at this point. 

Rising Tensions

Upon his move to the UK, the tycoon began his goal of obtaining British citizenship and elevating his status in society. Hence the purchase of Harrods, a store known for catering to the British royal family. It even possessed the coveted “royal warrant” for years—a kind of “seal of approval” from the monarchy. He also funded various royal initiatives like the Windsor horse show in an attempt to gain closer ties to the queen and her clan. 

His relationship with the royals quickly took a turn for the worse upon the death of his son, Dodi, and Princess Diana. He spent years not only grieving over the loss, but also publicly sharing his suspicions that the car accident was orchestrated by Prince Philip and the MI6. However, the official report rebutted the claim, stating that the accident was a result of an inebriated driver that drove too fast in an attempt to escape paparazzi. 

A Harrods memorial Al-Fayed established in memory of Princess Diana and his son, Dodi Al-Fayed
A Harrods memorial Al-Fayed established in memory of Princess Diana and his son, Dodi Al-Fayed/Photo by Bobak Ha’Eri via Wikimedia Commons

Tensions between Al-Fayed and the royal family continued as they withdrew their support of Harrods under his ownership. The tycoon also had his fair share of problems as questions on the legitimacy of his wealth and self-proclaimed family history, began to surface. According to a report by BBC, he had fabricated certain facts including his birth date and familial background, likely in order to raise his status.                                                                                                

Exclusion and Success

Despite Al-Fayed’s contributions and endeavors in the UK, his multiple attempts to gain British citizenship had been rejected. Still, there’s no denying his business acumen and leadership skills. Under a decade of his management, Harrods experienced a 50% increase in sales, with profits rising from £16 million to £62 million, as per The Times Israel. The Fulham FC also rose to the Premier League under his ownership. 

Photo by Gareth Cattermole via Encyclopædia Britannica

In 2003, Al-Fayed left Britain for a self-imposed exile in Switzerland due to legal tax feuds, according to a report by The Independent. However, despite not being as physically present in the country, he stated that he would remain active in his various businesses within it. Later in 2010, he sold Harrods to Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund for around £1.5 billion (roughly $2.2 billion).                                                                                                                                                              

A Life of Philanthropy

Al-Fayed was an active philanthropist throughout his life, donating generously to a variety of charities and humanitarian organizations. In fact, his philanthropic work was what led him to become acquainted with Diana of Wales, who was also active in the philanthropy scene. The BBC stated that he had made significant donations to organizations such as the Great Ormond Street Hospital. 

Being a father himself, he was particularly passionate about advocacies that supported underserved children. In 1987, he set up the Al Fayed Charitable Foundation, which provides resources to impoverished, traumatized, and ill youth. 

To journalist Piers Morgan, Al-Fayed was a “flawed, complex” character, but one Morgan couldn’t help but like. He adds that the tycoon was an “extraordinary tour de force of a man who never got over the death of his beloved son Dodi in the crash that also killed Diana,” as per BBC

Michael Cole, a former BBC royal correspondent who worked closely with Al-Fayed, stated that the billionaire was an “extraordinary,” “fascinating,” and “larger than life” character who was “full of humanity.”

Banner photo by Gareth Cattermole via Encyclopædia Britannica.

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