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What Money Could Not Buy

Dodi Fayed/AP
Dodi Fayed outside his home on Aug. 21. (AP)
By Marc Fisher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 4, 1997; Page D01

Mohamed Fayed is a celebrity, a power broker, a retail and financial magnate. He is an Arab who owns such treasures of Britannia as Harrods department store, Punch magazine, the Scottish castle of Clan Ross and many possessions from the Paris villa that formerly belonged to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

But Fayed is by his own account frustrated, even bitter. Spurned in his effort to win a British passport, snubbed by the titled blue bloods, mocked by the very politicians whose favor he bought with lavish gifts, Fayed has lashed out, bringing down government ministers and members of Parliament, feeding newspapers scrumptious tales of how he handed MPs fistfuls of cash. He has repeatedly threatened to take his money and relocate to France, where he says he could win citizenship in less time than it takes to dine at his Ritz hotel.

Mohamed Fayed
Mohamed Al Fayed in 1996. (AP)
Yet Fayed's desire for vengeance has been tempered by his lifelong obsession with being an Englishman: He has snapped up one symbol after another of Britain's former glory, most recently -- stealing a trick from the carpetbagging Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch -- buying a soccer team to prove his allegiance to his adopted homeland.

And while Britain's Home Office has resolutely refused even a single line of explanation for why Fayed is not worthy of citizenship, he was, until that screeching moment beneath the Paris streets Saturday night, on the verge of fulfilling his dream. Through the well-practiced wooings of his favorite son, Emad -- better known in the world's celebrity circles as "Dodi" -- the Fayeds were on the cusp of linking up with one of English aristocracy's first families.

Father might be stuck with a United Arab Emirates passport, but son -- according to his friends and relatives -- was going to marry Diana, Princess of the Millennium.

Finally, the Fayeds would have to be accepted as members of British society, not just rich "wogs." Finally, the Brits would have to grant the Egyptian-born billionaire the royal blue hardcover passport he has coveted for decades.

Mohamed Fayed -- son of a poor Alexandria schoolteacher, master of the rewritten life -- would not only be richer than the royals, more powerful than the queen, and able to break politicians with a single well-placed telephone call. Fayed would be almost royalty himself.

The father, in his usual controlling manner -- this is a man who, after buying Harrods, briefly took over the cold cuts counter to make certain the salami was being properly sliced -- had done everything possible to make the Dodi-Di romance a possibility.

The princess and the playboy began their relationship on Mohamed Fayed's yacht, Jonikal, and some friends say it was the father who made the introduction. Fayed was a close friend of Diana's father, the eighth Earl Spencer, and he had taken pains to put Diana's stepmother, Raine, on the board of Harrods International.

"Diana's father turned to Mohamed on his deathbed and asked Mohamed to look after his family," says London PR man Max Clifford, a friend and political ally of Fayed. "So Diana was always comfortable with the Fayeds. Mohamed Fayed is the person at the heart of all this. But that relationship was between two people. It was a natural progression."

Dodi and Diana were about to announce their engagement, according to Dodi's step-uncle, Hussein Yassin, who says he spoke to his love-struck relation four hours before the chauffeured Mercedes hurtled into a Paris tunnel wall.

If it was love, it also would have been the sweetest revenge. The British royal family that Diana believed had treated her so shabbily would have had to watch as she brought a garishly wealthy Arab family into the heart of aristocracy. And the British establishment that had snootily dismissed Mohamed Fayed's pleas for acceptance would then have had to honor him as patriarch of Di's new family.

It was not to be: With the death of his son, Fayed has lost his entree to royal circles and his last, best chance to become an Englishman.

"He's utterly desolate," Michael Cole, spokesman for Fayed, said this week. "This is cruelty laid upon cruelty."

"I will never be able to reconcile myself to the needless and cruel deaths of two people who were so vibrant, generous and full of life," Fayed said in a prepared statement Monday before going into seclusion. "God took their souls to live together in paradise. Now they have peace."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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