Diana 1961-1997: The princess and the playboy - Outsider's son who cour ted Royalty

Dodi Fayed was kind, gentle and courteous - and he was a great person with young people Michael Cole, Harrods director
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It was a relationship that lasted only a few short weeks but it gave Diana, Princess of Wales, some of the happiest moments of her life. Yet it also terrified sections of the British establishment.

Dodi Fayed lived like a prince, owning a string mansions in Beverley Hills and moving effortlessly in the circles of the international jet set.

But he was also the son of Mohamed Al Fayed, the billionaire owner of Harrods and the bete noire of the British ruling classes.

Twice spurned in his quest for British citizenship, Mr Al Fayed had apparently exacted his revenge by destroying the Conservative government through his revelations in the "cash-for-questions" affair.

Having already controversially gained ownership of "the top people's store" he could now imagine himself in attendance at the next coronation as the step-grandfather of the new king.

The public only became aware of Diana's links with the Fayeds in July, when the Princess was pictured in a swimsuit on board the Harrods owner's yacht in the French riviera.

It later emerged that the 64-year-old proprietor had long thought that Diana and his son were well-matched and had invited the Princess to join his family, including Dodi, 41, on holiday in St Tropez. To his joy the couple clicked.

When new pictures quickly emerged of the pair in tender embrace the nation was stunned yet fascinated. "Di's New Man is Al Fayed's Son" and "Di's Secret Hol with Harrods Hunk Dodi", ran the newspaper headlines.

But the carping from royal observers began almost at once. "What on earth does she think she's playing at," said one courtier.

"He may be frightfully generous with his yachts but he is not the sort who strikes me as being a good long-term bet."

It was pointed out that Dodi had been previously romanced countless other beautiful and famous women including Brooke Shields, Koo Stark, Marie Helvin and Joanne Whalley. For eight months he had been married to model Suzanne Gregard.

But Diana too had found it hard to sustain friendships with men after the breakdown of her marriage. She had been linked to Will Carling, the former England rugby captain, Oliver Hoare, an art dealer, and Hasnat Khan, a heart surgeon.

Dodi, with his international lifestyle and acceptance of privacy intrusions and the attentions of bodyguards, was in some regards better suited than most to building a long-term relationship with the world's most famous woman.

Furthermore, Dodi had apparently struck up a rapport with the young princes, William and Harry.

The Princess made little or no attempt to deny the affair and told friends that the holiday with Dodi had been the happiest of her life.

Mohamed Al Fayed could not conceal his pride. "I give them my blessing," he told a newspaper. "They are both adults. She is a lovely girl and he is my son and I love him very much. They seem to enjoy each other's company a lot and it makes me happy to see them both so happy."

Despite the apparent suddenness of the relationship, the couple had first met10 years earlier at a polo match in Windsor.

Diana's stepmother, Raine, Countess of Chambrun, is an old friend of the Fayed family and was delighted with the match, praising Dodi's "immaculate manners". She said: "I love the whole family. I've known them all for 15 years."

The friendship between the Fayed and Spencer families began when Mohamed Al Fayed was introduced to the late Earl Spencer, the Princess's father. Soon Raine was sending her cooks from the family home at Althorp for training at Mr Al Fayed's Ritz hotel in Paris.

Dodi Fayed is believed to have been educated at Le Rosey school in Switzerland and later attended the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. His mother was Samira Khashoggi, the sister of Adnan Khashoggi, the Saudi Arabian arms dealer.

Unlike his father, he never chased after a British passport and held joint Egyptian and United Arab Emirates citizenship and a right of residence in America. He was a director of Harrods and, when in London, he worked in the store's product development department.

Michael Cole, director of public affairs at Harrods, said that Dodi was "kind, gentle and courteous" and "a great person with young people".

For nine months of the year Dodi was in Hollywood, where he ran a production company called Allied Stars and made a name by working on the Oscar-winning film Chariots of Fire, Hook and The World According to Garp.

But his relationship with the most photographed woman on the planet thrust the film-maker in front of the cameras.

When he died, Dodi Fayed, whose fairy-tale life ended in the arms of a princess, was working on a film project based on the story of Peter Pan.