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City & Business: A Model-T upbringing

DOWN through the years there has been considerable controversy about the origins of Harrods owner Mohamed al Fayed. In 1985, at the time Mr Fayed became a public figure by outmanoeuvring Lonrho chief "Tiny" Rowland in his bid for the most famous department store in the world, many in the media reported that he was of aristocratic Egyptian stock - a scion of landowners exporting cotton to the Lancashire mills.

In its 1989 report on the battle for Harrods, the Department of Trade and Industry offered a different set of facts. The DTI found that Mr Fayed grew up, not with an English nanny at his elbow, but in an inner-city neighbourhood of Alexandria, the son of a local schoolteacher. The DTI said he launched his career, not on the back of family wealth, but working for the arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi.

We can now reveal that both versions of Mr Fayed's childhood are wrong. When last year Vickers announced it was putting its Rolls Royce luxury car division up for sale, we began sniffing around for potential buyers. Our investigation led to a barn in on the border between Michigan and Canada where we uncovered a cache of documents proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that Mr Fayed grew up, not in Eygpt, but in a blue-collar neighbourhood of Detroit, Michigan.

Mr Fayed, documents unequivocally show, was raised the son of a fitter on the General Motors assembly line making Cadillacs. He was an adopted child. Mr Fayed's natural father was Edsel Ford.

This new information will be reported in full in due course, but we felt it our public duty to lay to rest any doubts about the seriousness of Mr Fayed's bid for the Rolls Royce luxury car group.

So-called experts have made light of Mr Fayed's interest in the company. Nay-sayers have pointed out that capital beyond the means of even the richest individual entrepreneur is needed to support the technology base of a modern auto company.

But serious miscalculations are being made. Mr Fayed is an auto man to his finger tips. Beyond that, he is close to the Ford family. It is all but a foregone conclusion that the Harrods owner will soon expand his empire, outbidding Daimler-Benz, BMW and Volkswagen - and in the process ensuring that the ownership of Rolls Royce stays happily on these shores.