Andrew Stephen cannot reconcile the serious, sensitive, likeable man he knew with the one portrayed in the press last week
I met Dodi Fayed about the same time that Princess Diana did, in 1986. I will never forget leaving his stark, impersonal penthouse at 60 Park Lane - using the same door through which Diana was to make her exits and entrances a decade or so later - with my new friend literally forcing gifts on to me. A Paris Ritz Hotel desk diary, a vast slab of frozen smoked salmon, a bottle of Ritz champagne ...

Whether they were genuine tokens of friendship or attempted journalistic bribes I'll never know; certainly Fayed was hoping that I was going to write a favourable profile of him for the Sunday Times magazine. I didn't want the gifts, handed them back, he pushed them back into my arms, and so on, until, unwilling to cause offence or a scene, I took them away with me. And no profile ever materialised.

Reading last week's obituaries, though, and the portrayal of him as a pudgy, high-living, womanising, playboy wastrel, I hardly recognise the man I knew. And I spent many hours with him in that Park Lane flat, in his office, at dinner, at the movies. Like so much to do with the Fayeds, in fact, Dodi seems, in retrospect, to have been a blur of inconsistencies.

Watching a film with him, for example, this ''womaniser" became visibly embarrassed by a tame love scene, and had to leave for a few minutes. In his flat he had a large "Thank you for not smoking" sign. He sipped Perrier, and wore white sneakers and white clothes. He spoke about 10-mile runs in combat boots at Sandhurst in a softly spoken, hybrid accent that had an American twang. He told me specifically that he had no girlfriends. It was certainly no surprise to me that his one foray into marriage had lasted only eight months.

But then, midway through a long conversation, he would suddenly ask if I minded if he lit up a Havana cigar; it was only cigarettes, he said, that he couldn't stand. His personal life? "Boring." But, yes, he did drive an Aston Martin Lagonda in Britain and a Mercedes in Los Angeles (where he spent eight months of the year), and his hobby was definitely cars - fast, fast cars. Was he a Muslim? Well, yes and no; he had been to a Catholic school (the chic Le Rosey) in Switzerland and he did like red wine. "But no hard liquor."

He was curiously reticent, too, about his mother, Samira Khashoggi, sister of the Saudi arms dealer Adnan, to whom his father was married for a short time - so much so that he would not even utter her name. And he said he did not want to see or to speak to his father, Mohamed, and had had little contact with him for four or five years - but, no, they weren't on bad terms. Nor did he use the "Al" his father added to his name - which the DTI report on the Fayeds said was a bogus pretension as far as Egyptian custom was concerned - because "my father's head of the family, you see". So, he would use it when his father died? "I don't think I will."

The mysteries deepened. I'd been prompted to meet Fayed in the first place by Ivan Fallon, then deputy editor of the Sunday Times, and a financial journalist who had close links with the family. He had written what turned out to be inaccurate, inflated claims about how the Fayeds had accumulated their wealth, and told me that Mohamed had given Dodi $100m to invest in films. Dodi was having none of that. "Bullshit," he said.

The image of the casual, dilettante investor in the movie business that came across so strongly in the media last week hardly squared, again, with what I saw and learnt. Dodi was serious and well informed about the industry and said that he had to account for every penny of family money that he put into films. He told me how he had met Hugh Hudson (the director) and Colin Welland (the actor-turned-scriptwriter) at the canteen in Pinewood studios and how they had asked Fayed to put up $3.5m to make Chariots of Fire. Fayed's immediate and enthusiastic response to them was, perhaps, my first clue to the collective Fayed psychology: the constant sense (and resentment) of being outsiders. Because the film was to be about competing Christian and Jewish runners, he told me, he could immediately identify with the theme of racial and cultural conflicts: "How your religion can affect you. How where you come from can affect you."

He was adamant that he was the precise opposite of a lazy investor in this or subsequent films: he was present for all the beach-running scenes (filmed at St Andrews), the courtyard race (at Eton) and on sets in Liverpool and Edinburgh. "People, you know, always assume I'm putting up the money and going off to the Bahamas or Switzerland - but I'm not," he said. "I'm on the set every day, in pre-production and editing and everything." Hudson told me that Fayed's participation as a producer of Chariots of Fire had been deliberately underplayed, with the result that he had been excluded from the Oscars that others won. "Dodi was hurt, I think."

Isolated, sensitive, even earnest: remembering those curious days with Dodi Fayed, I recall only a rather likeable and gentle man, something of an innocent in the big wide world. A chameleon, almost certainly a malleable puppet in his father's relentless quest to insinuate himself into the sillier wings of the British establishment. I particularly remember a picture Dodi proudly, and rather pathetically, displayed in his office - of himself shaking hands with the Queen Mother at a film premiere in 1981. With hindsight, it was symbolic of the early days of a frantic pursuit of British royalty by the Fayed family - one that ended so finally and so appallingly by the Pont de l'Alma last weekend.