Obituary: Dodi Fayed

Dodi Fayed's background was one of unbridled luxury. The eldest son of Mohamed Al Fayed, the multi-millionaire owner of Harrods, and the only child by his first wife, the late Samira Khashoggi, he was born in the Egyptian port of Alexandria in 1956 and raised as a Muslim in a world of lavish homes, yachts and private planes. Samira's father had been the private physician to the Saudi Royal Family, and her brother was the billionaire arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi, who gave the ambitious Mohamed financial support with his business schemes.

Dodi's parents separated shortly after his birth, but both families were devoted to him, and his school holidays were divided between Khashoggi homes on the French Riviera, Paris and Cairo, and his father's palatial home in Alexandria. At the age of 15 he was given his own flat in Mayfair and his own Rolls Royce complete with chauffeur and bodyguard.

He was educated at the exclusive Le Rosay school in Switzerland before attending the British military academy Sandhurst and getting a commission in the United Arab Emirates air force (his father had business concerns in Dubai at the time). As a junior officer stationed in London, the handsome young man became a familiar figure on the capital's nightclub scene, with a predilection for fast cars and beautiful women. He owned five Ferraris, and his girlfriends included Brooke Shields, Cathy Lee Crosby and Joanne Whalley. ("He likes trophy women," said a friend at the time. "Anyone that rich is going to.")

Just as the death of Diana, Princess of Wales sadly echoes that of another princess, the former Grace Kelly, so Dodi Fayed's life and death strangely parallels that of the European playboy-prince of the Fifties, Aly Khan, who had an equal love of high-life and glamorous women. Khan married Rita Hayworth, and had affairs with such stars as Gene Tierney, Joan Fontaine and Yvonne DeCarlo before his 1960 death in a car crash, ironically also in Paris. Fayed, who is described by friends as a quiet and introspective man despite his love of celebrity ("He would invite all these famous people to dinner, then just sit and listen," said a close friend) quickly abandoned a military career in favour of the splashier world of show business, forming a film production company Allied Stars.

The first film for which he helped raise financing (and for which he gained co-producer credit) was Chariots of Fire (1981), which won four Oscars (including Best Film) for its moving depiction of a true story of two men, one a devout Scottish Christian, the other an English Jew, who ran in the 1924 Olympics. In America, where Fayed set up his business, he leased a series of luxury homes in Southern California and gave legendary parties for such guests as Tony Curtis, Farrah Fawcett and Robert Downey Jr. ("At one party," said a friend, "There was a full bowling alley, a dance band and movies").

But Fayed gained a reputation for not meeting financial obligations, with at least 10 law-suits for bounced cheques and unpaid rent. It was alleged that whenever his father was displeased with Dodi he would stop his reputed $100,000-a-month allowance. The director Richard Donner, who was planning to do a film with Fayed, defended him in a statement to Time magazine this month: "He's a good- looking, bright young kid who comes from a lot of money and people are jealous . . . if this thing is serious, Di could not be a luckier lady because he's a special guy."

In 1986 Fayed married the model Suzanne Gregard, but the union lasted only eight months. Later Gregard, who won a divorce settlement of over pounds 2m, spoke of him warmly: "He was so romantic and thoughtful, and didn't take things too seriously". The writer Dominick Dunne is another attesting to Fayed's charm, stating after hearing of his death in a car crash with Diana, Princess of Wales: "Whatever else he was, he was a nice guy. There was something very gentle about him."

Members of Fayed's family attribute the tenderness and sensitivity he displayed in his relationships with women to his own devotion to his mother and the tragedies he had experienced. As a teenager he lost his adored maternal grandmother, who died of blood poisoning after a botched facelift operation. A stepfather and aunt died in a car crash, and his mother, to whom he was devoted - he would telephone her virtually every day - died of a heart attack 11 years ago at the age of 51. Fayed told a friend: "If it meant giving up everything I have - cars, wealth and women - I would do it to bring my mother back."

Though he spent three months of every year working with his father supervising product development and branding for Harrods, Fayed's main activities centred on his film business and his jet-setting lifestyle, his description in gossip columns invariably that of "millionaire playboy".

His later film ventures were less distinguished than his first, though Robert Mandel's F/X (1986) was an intriguing, if far-fetched tale of a film special- effects expert who is hired to stage a fake assassination and finds himself part of a sinister real-life crime. George Roy Hill's The World According to Garp (1982), an ambitious attempt to film John Irving's complex novel about a strange young man's oddyssey through a life heavily influenced by an unorthodox mother, won some critical praise, but Stephen Spielberg's Hook (1991) was a disastrously overblown and charmless version of Peter Pan. One of its stars, Julia Roberts, had a brief relationship with Fayed. Tina Sinatra and the former child model Tracey Lynn were other girlfriends. "He was always with a very pretty woman," said a friend.

In 1986 the polo-playing playboy first met Princess Diana when the Fayed team played that of Prince Charles at Windsor, but it was 11 years later, when his father asked Diana and her children to be his holiday guests in St Tropez, that the pair got to know one another. Their affair made the name of Dodi Fayed familiar throughout the world. His close friend, the writer Jack Martin, commented on Sunday, "Dodi had all the money in the world, but he wanted fame. He died with the most famous woman in the world. He couldn't have scripted it better."

Tom Vallance

Emad (Dodi) Al Fayed, film producer and business executive: born Alexandria, Egypt 15 April 1955; married 1986 Suzanne Gregard (marriage dissolved); died Paris 31 August 1997.

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