Who is the real Mohamed Al-Fayed?

While exploring Princess Diana’s divorce from Prince Charles, The crowns fifth season also lays the groundwork for her relationship with a film producer Dodi Fayed. While the future partners, played by Elizabeth Debicki and Khalid Abdalla, only meet once in the new episodes, the series makes sure to delve into Dodi’s backstory and family, starting with his father, Mohamed Al-Fayed.

Season 5, Episode 3 “Mou Mou” introduces Mohamed as a young man (Amir El-Masry) in Alexandria, Egypt. He’s selling soda on the street when the Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson pay a royal visit to town, leaving him starstruck. Although his father understandably resents the British for occupying Egypt and “[trampling] on our freedoms. Our dignity,” Mohamed finds them hopeful. “I want to match them. I want to be like them. Have power like them,” he says later in his room.

After a time jump, The crown shows the grown-up Mohamed (Salim Daw), now a wealthy businessman, in pursuit of that power. He buys the Ritz, attends the same horse shows as the royal family, buys Harrods and refurbishes the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s country villa in France. He even hires Sydney Johnson, the former equerry to the abdicated King Edward VIII. At the end of the episode, Daws meets Mohamed Debicki’s Diana as they sit together at a royal horse show and become fast friends.

Here’s what you need to know about the real Al-Fayed.

He’s a billionaire.

Mohamed Fayed – he added Al to his name in the 70s – was born in Alexandria, Egypt, although his exact date of birth is disputed. (He is believed to be around 90 today.) He married Samira Khashoggi, sister of arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi, in 1954. The following year they welcomed a son together, Emad El-Din Mohamed Abdel Mena’em Fayed, alias Dodi Fayed. The couple sign in 1956. Not much is known about his early business ventures, but he worked in the Saudi Arabian import business, launched a shipping business, and consulted the Sultan of Brunei in 1966, according to BBC. He then moved to the UK in the 1970s.

In 1979, as shown in the crown, Mohamed and his brother Ali bought the Ritz Paris hotel. At the time, the establishment was not doing well after the death of hotel owner Charle Ritz, who died in 1976. His widow Monique decided to sell it three years later, per History Extra. Perhaps his most famous venture is buying the department store Harrods, which he and his brother did in 1985. (This was also the same year he married socialite and model Heini Wathen.) This gave him access to elite social circles, including events, which the royals attended. He sold the store to the Qatari royal family in 2010 for a reported $2.4 billion.

His other businesses include financing the Oscar-winning film Fire trucks via his and Dodi’s production company Allied Stars, and buying Fulham Football Club in 1997, which sold in 2013 for a reported $300 million. From November 2022, Forbes estimates Al-Fayed’s net worth is $1.9 billion.

dodi al fayed and diana memorial unveiled at harrods

Salim Daw as Mohamed Al-Fayed on The crown.

Netflix

He renovated “Villa Windsor.”

In 1986, Al-Fayed took a 50-year lease on the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s French home, a 14-bedroom 19th-century villa in the Bois de Boulogne. The condition of the villa had worsened when the duchess died earlier that year. (The duke left in 1972.) Al-Fayed planned to renovate the property into a private museum, a place where “historians, members of the British royal family, personalities, friends and important guests of the Ritz” could visit, he said. New York Times. He ultimately spent $12 million on renovations, according to People.

Al-Fayed only met the royal couple once during a party at the villa in the 60s, he said Times. But they left a lasting impression on him, and he remembered “the way they danced and their sense of fun.” He told later People“I was completely taken by their manner and their warmth.”

Sydney Johnson, a former officer for the Duke for over 30 years, restored the pieces in Al-Fayed’s renovation project. He became valet for the businessman in the villa after working at the Ritz, per Times. Al-Fayed called him a “dictionary”, and added to Times“He’s a very cultured man. He got all these things out of boxes and safes and storage rooms, and he knows their history.”

He invited Diana and her children on holiday.

While The crown depicts Mohamed and Diana’s first meeting at a horse show, they actually met earlier through Diana’s stepmother Raine Spencer, who was on the board of Harrods, according to History Extra. While their conversation on screen was imagined, there was probably some truth behind their discussion of feeling like outsiders – Diana in the royal family and Al-Fayed in Britain. He applied for British citizenship and was denied twice.

diana in polo

Al-Fayed (far right) at a polo match with Prince Charles and Princess Diana circa 1987.

Princess Diana Archives//Getty Images

In the summer of 1997, he invited Diana and her sons to vacation with him and his family in St. Tropez, on his yacht Jonikalen. It is said that this is where she met and became close with his son, Dodi. They only dated for about a month before they both died in a car accident in Paris in August 1997.

Mohamed, who would go on to build a memorial to Diana and Dodi at Harrods, has long maintained that the crash was not an accident but murder. He believes the couple were killed on purpose “because they still do not accept that Dodi, my son, an Egyptian, a Muslim, can be the stepfather of the future king,” he said in a 60 Minutes Australia interview.

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