Having a shrine to Diana and Dodi in Harrods inevitably meant more spectacle than solemnity. While the Windsors and the Spencers yesterday opted for low-key commemorations of the Princess, the tribute by Mohamed Al Fayed was huge, opulent and impossible to ignore.
Mr Fayed strode into the store at 1.45pm promising that his "Egyptian curse" would seek out those responsible for the Paris deaths. He said he had come to Harrods because he knew "thousands of people were here waiting for me ... it is the ordinary people who have given me support. They know exactly what's happened."
With both families out of London - the Windsors at Balmoral and the Spencers at Althorp - once again the public grumbled that the Royal Family were hiding from the People. ("They haven't learnt a thing," one queuer sniffed.) So the shrine, the tributes and Mr Fayed's walkabout followed by burly minders and scurrying journalists was the nearest they came to a semblance of last year's drama. If Diana's relations didn't want to know, then the people would stick with Dodi's.
People clutching their Harrods roses and their Harrods food hall bags (the prudent had obviously decided to combine the mourning with a bit of shopping) queued to look the two shrines, one in the window, destined for Mr Fayed's home, and the other at the foot of the Egyptian escalator. Five books of condolence were ready to be signed.
"God bless you Dodi and Diana, you are in Paradise" ... "You will always be together in Heaven" ... "Dodi you will never be forgotten by the genuine English people" ... "Dodi, the only man never to betray the princess" were a sample of the sentiments expressed.
For this was Dodi and Diana - The Love Story. Never mind that their romance had been a mere few weeks, or that her friends cast doubt on whether the relationship would have developed. No, this was Abelard and Heloise, Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde all rolled into one. Whether people would have been as happy with a Mr and Mrs Fayed in reality was not open for discussion.
"The Establishment will not accept that Dodi as an Egyptian and as my son would have been the man that would have married Diana," said Mr Fayed yesterday. "I pray my beloved son and his dearest Diana have found peace and comfort in heaven. I am sure they are happy together."
Few disagreed. Dorrie Mitzman's remark - "It was only a holiday romance and I don't think anything would have come of it" - was not the sort that was appreciated.
"They would have definitely got married and they would have had a child," predicted Rose Drew, who was waiting to give her flowers personally to Mr Fayed. "Oh really, how can you say to me it was just a holiday romance?"
"I think it's important that we've come here for both Dodi and Diana," said Sheila Cooper from Twickenham. "He made her very happy in the last few months of her life. No other man had."
The 8ft-high shrines reflected this romantic view. Large and ornate, two gold entwined D's encircle pictures of the two lovers resting on top of bronze fountains. In the background the new CD by George Benson (pounds 3.99, available around the store) in honour of Dodi softly played. In another corner there were tributes including a 4ftfurry red heart left by well- wishers.
"The shrine symbolises Diana and Dodi's last holiday together when they were both very happy," explained Laurie Mayer, Mr Fayed's spokesman. "The seagulls and the greenery are reminiscent of the Mediterranean, the water represents eternity and the candles are obviously everlasting."
Most of those who came had visited Kensington Gardens or Buckingham Palace last year and were planning to go there after visiting Harrods. They were firmly supportive of Mr Fayed.
"I think it's disgusting," said Mary Mesbahi from Ruislip. "I don't know why they can't just give him British citizenship. We know that Dodi was the only man that ever made her happy."
Mr Fayed reiterated his feelings about last year's crash: "I am just looking to God. I will not rest," he said. "If it is not an accident and if it is murder, be sure that whoever did this murder will not escape from God. My Egyptian curse will not let them get away with it."
Asked if he had any message for the Royal Family, there was a pointed pause. "I'm not sure about that, really. I feel sorry for the princes. They are very close, very loving and the most important thing to me ... But I am suffering too. I lost my son."
Clutching their CDs and flowers, most mourners agreed. "The Royal Family should be here. They haven't learnt anything," said Pauline Chedgy from Bath. "I feel sorry for the princes and I think people will never forget Diana and the way she was treated by them," added Natalie Foordfrom Adelaide, Australia.
Last night the Harrods store, normally illuminated by 11,000 lightbulbs, was to remain in darkness except for the memorial window. It was the sort of gesture the people outside liked.
"Diana captured Dodi's heart. They represent lovers everywhere," cooed Ms Drew.
And then, on a more practical note, she added: "And [Mr Fayed] is the only person who has put up a memorial that people can come and see for free."Reuse content