The coiffured head of Michael Cole and his silky voice became familiar to all of us over the last turbulent week. Whenever the Paris crash investigators said one thing, Mr Cole, spokesman for Mohamed Al Fayed, said another - or so it seemed. Whenever the blame was moving away from the paparazzi back to his boss, up popped Mr Cole to send it back again.

A former BBC royal correspondent and son of a London taxi driver, the 54-year-old Mr Cole is a perfect frontman for Mr Fayed. As one Harrods insider, who declined to be named, put it: "English isn't Al Fayed's first language and he tends to use a lot of swear words and cliches when he speaks. Cole's job is to make him presentable."

They first met in 1987 when Mr Cole went to Paris to make a film for the BBC about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor's former home which Mr Fayed had recently acquired. Soon afterwards, Mr Cole was sacked from his job as BBC royal correspondent when he revealed the details of the Queen's Speech to royal reporters on tabloid newspapers. But Mr Cole's 20-year television career had taken him to many of the world's war zones and Mr Fayed, then embroiled in a bitter feud with Tiny Rowland, the head of Lonrho, did not count his dismissal against him.

In 1988 Mr Fayed offered him the job of media chief of his company, House of Fraser, which owned Harrods. Together with Mr Fayed's brother, Ali, and Mark Griffiths, Mr Fayed's personal secretary, Mr Cole is one of Mr Fayed's key advisers. His most frequent disagreements, according to a Harrods insider, are with Ali Al Fayed, who deeply mistrusts the press and would prefer his brother never to give interviews. Ironically, however, the story which, until Sunday, had done the most to bring Mohamed to public attention - the cash-for-questions affair - was nothing to do with Mr Cole but was the result of off-the-record briefings given to newspaper editors by his boss over a number of months.

Mr Cole may have done his boss few favours last week by seeming to speak authoritatively about the crash only to see his categorical assertions undermined by the following day's headlines. One colleague, who declined to be named, insists that Mr Cole is playing with a straight bat. "I am certain that whatever Michael says he absolutely believes. His sources are clearly better than anybody else's but at the end of the day he's just like anybody else. He hears things, but nobody really knows."