Mohamed Fayed: Enemy of the state

Mohamed Fayed is more convinced than ever that Diana and Dodi were murdered - and that the Royal family were behind it. He tells Jonathan Margolis how the Stevens report will prove him right
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The Independent Online

Mohamed Fayed is on a charm offensive, albeit in his own unique fashion. In a Channel 4 documentary next week, You're Fayed, he calls Prince Philip, inter alia, "a sick, diseased German Nazi bastard from nowhere" and "a murderer", describes some members of the Cabinet as "cocksuckers" (but only the ones he likes), dismisses Tony Blair as "a failed lawyer", and asks rhetorically how Prince Charles can sleep with a woman "who looks like a crocodile".

Mohamed Fayed is on a charm offensive, albeit in his own unique fashion. In a Channel 4 documentary next week, You're Fayed, he calls Prince Philip, inter alia, "a sick, diseased German Nazi bastard from nowhere" and "a murderer", describes some members of the Cabinet as "cocksuckers" (but only the ones he likes), dismisses Tony Blair as "a failed lawyer", and asks rhetorically how Prince Charles can sleep with a woman "who looks like a crocodile".

What is also subtly different between a Fayed PR campaign and your usual attempt at presenting the public a prettier face is its purpose. When most people or companies go for an image upgrade, it's ultimately sales-related. But Harrods is doing splendidly, and the Fayed bank balance doesn't seem to be in bad shape at all.

No: what Fayed wants is to soften up the British public so that we will no longer see him as a deluded conspiracy theorist. He firmly believes that his son Dodi and Diana, Princess of Wales were murdered by rogue elements in British intelligence at the behest of the Royal Family in general, but the Duke of Edinburgh in particular. He desperately wants us to see the truth of this. And when he has succeeded, of course, Fayed will be a folk hero, the billionaire anti-establishment anarchist who, despite being shunned and rejected by Britain, battled on to liberate the British people from their Windsor-Mountbatten oppressors.

It was a while - two minutes, at least - after we met before Fayed brought up the sensitive subject of his son's alleged murder. We were processing around Harrods. He was supposed to be in the boardroom talking to me, but had to fit in a quick TV interview to mark the 20th anniversary of his controversial acquisition of Harrods.

"Nice shop, Mohamed; it could do well," I said on the escalator down to ladies' perfumes. That broke the ice. Not that Fayed really does ice; a bouncing 72-year-old with a trust-me handshake, he's not the hardest bloke to get going. "Can you imagine," he growls, "a fugging grandfather prepared to murder the mother of his grandchildren? Isn't that something unbelievable? And you should see the love Diana had for those boys. Inseparable. They kiss, they hug, they were a complete unit.

"Those boys are suffering now. But just now, what can they do? Nothing. But me, I can, and everything will be proved in few months' time by the Stevens report. This will be the biggest story in history." He's referring to the police report on Diana's death commissioned by the royal coroner Michael Burgess.

"I can't disagree with that," I say. And it's true; an investigation by Sir John Stevens, the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, which concluded, however guardedly, that Diana's death was no accident, would be beyond sensational.

"But aren't you inevitably going to be disappointed by the report?" I ask. "No. Stevens is a very, very fair man."

"I wonder if you'll still be saying that if he doesn't come out on your side?"

"Yes, because I already know some of the things he has found. But let's talk about that later in Paris. Come tomorrow, you see my hotel, I find you a nice room, we'll talk." Then Fayed is in beaming, jovial shopkeeper mode again, showing the TV crew round the store and gladhanding members of the public. He's greeted as a star by many shoppers and is gracious to everyone.

Fayed intrigues the British public by being three Mohameds in one - the twinkly japester from Alexandria with the brilliantly vulgar patter; the father devastated by his loss; and finally, the newest Mohamed, this liberator and seeker after truth.

Back in his boardroom, I wait while Fayed's minions try to work out just what The Chairman wants done with me now. I gather that as it's his idea to continue our two-minute conversation in Paris, he will pick up the tab and put me up for a night at the Ritz. It's too late to get a train ticket biked over, however, so I'm swiftly being presented with an envelope bulging with cash. It contains precisely what I'll need for a fare, taxis, lunch and what-have-you, but it's nice to see that the hospitable Fayed way has not been altered by recent history.

On the train, I watch a DVD of the upcoming documentary, presented by the actor Keith Allen. Because of the strange tragedy/comedy dichotomy in Fayed, it's a compelling show, veering, as the subject does, from facetiousness to solemnity and back again. Its purpose from Fayed's point of view is achieved; it's the most intimate portrait of him yet seen, and shows how he balances the central catastrophe of his life with the desire to be a clown, always ready with an earthy joke and a stream of the "fugging fugs" the public and media love.

Of his family and home life, we learn little, although there's some wacky detail. Fayed spends all the time he can, we hear, in tents outside his homes. He's frozen a vial of his seed ("pharaonic sperm") for cloning purposes. He'll be buried in a pyramid on top of Harrods (subject to planning permission). Oh, yes: and he has something on Michael Howard that he's only going to release in emergency - that is, if Howard looks in serious contention to become prime minister. (Fayed was a Blair supporter, but now believes he's no better than any politician.)

What is really surprising in the film, though, is Allen's conclusion. "The more time you spend with Fayed," Allen says, "the saner he seems." And this, I suspect, is the start of a trend towards taking Fayed's claims over the Paris accident seriously.

Starting a conversation in London and continuing it in Paris might seem a bit odd, but Fayed's world is a whirl in which his people appear and reappear magically in different parts of his empire. London, Surrey (where the nominal family home is), Scotland, Paris, Cairo - it's all the same to him, a running dialogue with staff, family and friends flitting in and out of vision.

As we sit in another modest office - at least, compared to the gorgeousness of the rest of the Ritz - I ask where he lives now. "Nowhere. I'm a Bedouin," he says. His official base is Geneva, and for tax reasons he has to restrict his time in Britain, which you sense hurts him, as he sees himself as a major wealth creator and taxpayer.

On his family, he's only a little more forthcoming than in the documentary. Dodi was the son of his first marriage, at 20, to an Egyptian wife he divorced after two years. For decades, he's been happily married to a Finnish woman he shields from all exposure. He has two daughters and two sons by her; the older son is deaf, and the younger, Omar, a 17-year-old student in the US, has been marked out as the next head of the Fayed businesses.

His politics, too, are hard to unravel. The left has semi-adopted him as an anarchic iconoclast, and he speaks movingly of his concern for the poor. But he excoriates every living politician ("I wouldn't give John Prescott a job as a doorman"), so I ask who he'd like to see as prime minister. Like many people in business, he thinks commercial experience is the missing link in our politicians, but he's uncomfortable naming anyone he considers up to the task. Who, then, does he admire from history? "Napoleon," he replies without hesitation.

But it's Dodi - described by those who knew him as a sweet-natured, kind man - he really wants to talk about. Here are the key elements of Fayed's latest claims, as he explains them, and as he believes will be supported by Sir John Stevens.

James Andanson, the paparazzo found burnt to death in his car three years after the Paris crash, has, Fayed claims, now been proved to have been driving the mysterious white Fiat Uno, and was in the pay of a third party to cause the crash. The Fiat was carrying 100kg of lead to make it heavier and thus more effective in knocking Diana and Dodi's Mercedes off course

The driver, Henri Paul, Fayed claims, was also in the pay of some malevolent party - hence the large sums found in his accounts - but Paul was double-crossed. He was hired and paid to take Diana and Dodi to their deaths, but the plan as he understood it wasn't for him to die too. Paul's main job on the night was to persuade Trevor Rees-Jones, the bodyguard, to dispense with the usual security car that followed Diana's vehicle.

The question of Paul's drunkenness is also, Fayed says, being unravelled by Sir John's team. Questions remain over an apparent mix-up by French police in which a blood sample of Paul's may have become muddled with someone else's. According to Fayed: "Paul's parents have agreed to a DNA test that will establish whether the blood sample that still exists is Henri's or somebody else's."

This is remarkable stuff - or will be if it's backed by Sir John. But there is still so much we want to know - the truth, that is - from Fayed. For starters, a straight description of his background. If he is to become some kind of regicidal Lenin figure, it would be nice to know whether he's posh, as his PR people used to maintain, or a man of the people, as he likes to say he is.

"I've always said I come from a humble background. It was a PR man who said all these things without my permission. I said, 'Why you do the bullshit, because it's not right. It's baloney.' My father was the chief inspector of northern Egypt for the ministry of education. My grandfather was a shipbuilder - wooden fruit-carrying ships with sails and engines.

"My father wanted me to be a teacher or doctor, but I said no thank you. I started with 500 Egyptian pounds from my grandfather when I opened my office at 18. I was booking cargo for grandfather's ships, working on commission. I made £200,000 in my first year and I started buying ships. They were about £20,000. I bought four straight away. By the time I was 21, I had 30. Then I bought part of a shipping line from a friend in financial trouble, and by 24 was head of it. Then I took my two brothers into the business. Nasser nationalised everything in Egypt, so we went to England. And that's the Fayed story. Humble beginnings. Always humble. I didn't inherit anything."

Fayed's showbiz side also has its roots in Egypt. "I always loved Egyptian comedy, so when I was building my shipping businesses, I also got into comedy films and facilities. I become agent for 20th Century Fox in Egypt. They need special effects, they need an army, I get it: shipping, I do it. So I was involved with Cleopatra, The Ten Commandments, Gordon of Khartoum. That's how all that started. Then, in England, I financed Breaking Glass and Chariots of Fire, Peter Pan and other movies."

So what, I wondered, is this obsession with being British? The relentlessness of his campaign for a passport puts me in mind of a son trying against the odds to gain the approval of a father who refuses to acknowledge him. In his position, most of us would choose not to live in Britain. He has received the Légion d'Honneur in France and would be welcome there. He is almost a ready-made New Yorker or Los Angeleno. So why continue the fruitless attempt to become a UK citizen?

He insists that he has no obsession about being British. It's just that the country is now home. "Listen, I was educated by the British, I've lived 35 years in England. I just don't want to be any place else."

That's all very well: but what if, I wonder, all had gone differently and Dodi and Diana were now happily married with kids and he was offered the chance by a grateful Queen to be made Duke of Knightsbridge? Surely he would accept?

"Listen, I don't need honours. Your real honours are your achievements. What you give, what you leave for ever. I do things with care, with compassion, with love, with history. Harrods is my pyramid. The Ritz is my pyramid. My charities are my pyramids. I grew up with 7,000 years of history behind me. Why would I want honours from people who were wearing animal skins and carrying sticks when my people were the greatest civilisation in the world? Fug it."

'You're Fayed' is on Channel 4 on Thursday 31 March at 10pm

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