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Diana in Love With a Different Heir

Egyptian Magnate, Dodi Al Fayed outside Harrods in London.
AFP Photo

Dodi outside Harrods
By Fred Barbash
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, August 9, 1997; Page B01

LONDON, Aug. 8 Princess Diana is said to have said she has fallen in love. The man is younger, richer, more exotic-looking and, by all accounts, considerably more fun than Prince Charles. He, too, is an heir, not to the throne, which costs money, but to Harrods, the department store, which makes money.

He is Dodi Fayed, 41, film financier, real estate magnate and aficionado of beautiful women around the globe.

The news broke this morning in the British tabloids, one of which quoted Diana, 36, telling friends that "it's time I started getting a life" and that Fayed "is the man who will take me out of one world into another. I trust him. I think he can provide everything I need." ("Telling friends," incidentally, is generally the code here for Princess Diana telling a reporter.) She was described as "deeply in love," indeed "besotted" with love for Fayed.

Wealthy as he is, Diana could not have chosen a less Establishment family. The Fayeds are outsiders who have been trying unsuccessfully for years to become insiders, meeting only rejection from those who control admission.

Dodi's Egyptian-born father, Mohamed, bought Harrods in 1985 only after a battle with the British government, which charged that he and his brothers had "dishonestly represented their origins, their wealth, and their business interests." Ever since, though Mohamed Fayed has lived in Britain more than 30 years, the government has refused to grant him British citizenship, for reasons it has never stated.

On the other hand, various government ministers and members of parliament have been happy to take his money and his gifts, in exchange for various parliamentary services. Bitter about his rejection, Fayed helped bring down the Conservative government of Prime Minister John Major -- not that much help was needed -- by revealing those payments to newspapers last year.

Princess Diana met Dodi through his father, who is close to members of her family, the Spencers, and they have been acquaintances for 10 years. Only in recent days have Dodi and Di been linked romantically, starting with photographs of father, son and princess vacationing aboard the Fayed yacht in the Mediterranean. On that occasion, Diana held an impromptu news conference -- speedboat to speedboat -- with photographers and reporters tailing her, during which she promised a "surprise" announcement.

That was followed over the weekend by more photographs showing the princess and Dodi vacationing together, minus the father.

This morning, all the tabloids had the same story -- that this was no mere friendship but a serious romance. It was no coincidence, if the past is any guide -- simultaneous tabloid publication of such Diana stories generally is orchestrated by an authorized "friend."

But only one tabloid, the Mirror, quoted her directly, though the quote was attributed to the "friends." " 'I just love his gentleness, his kindness and his almost dull way of living,' " the paper said friends said Di said of Fayed. "For someone like me, who has lived a goldfish-bowl type of existence, I can't tell you how comforting this is. I like the way he sends flowers. I like the way he conducts himself, not only with me but with women in general."

The women in general have included a variety of beauties, among them Brooke Shields, Britt Ekland, actress Valerie Perrine, Tina Sinatra and American model Suzanne Gregard, to whom Fayed was married for eight months in 1986.

His "dull way of living" includes two Ferraris, at least one vintage Rolls-Royce, a $23 million yacht, a Sikorsky helicopter, a Gulfstream jet, a castle in the Scottish Highlands and other homes in Switzerland, New York, Dubai, Geneva, Genoa and, of course, London. Thursday night he reportedly had dinner brought in on silver platters for the two of them at his apartment across from Hyde Park. (His family owns the building, along with a slew of other buildings in Mayfair, one of the world's most expensive neighborhoods.) She then flew off to Bosnia to promote her favorite cause, a ban on land mines, refusing to comment on anything but land mines.

Dodi Fayed's primary business is Allied Stars, which helps finance movies, including "Chariots of Fire" and "Hook."

Prince Charles, 48, and Diana were divorced a year ago. Until the Di and Dodi story broke, the big royals story concerned Charles's efforts to win public acceptance of his relationship with, and possible marriage someday to, Camilla Parker Bowles, his longtime lover.

The last episode in that saga found Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey saying that Camilla's divorce, since her ex-husband is not dead, would be incompatible with Charles's role, were he to become king, as "Supreme Governor" of the Church of England. Indeed, he said, a Charles-Camilla marriage would cause a "crisis."

There are no such obstacles to a Di-Dodi marriage, should the royal soap opera next bend that way.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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