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The Fabulous Pharaoh

The Daily Mail, 10 November 1984



This article reports the Daily Mail’s first interview with Mohamed ‘Al’ Fayed following his purchase of Lonrho’s 30 per cent stake in House of Fraser on 2 November 1984.

    It is essentially an embellishment of the false account of the Fayed brothers’ background first published six days earlier in The Observer. Though the article is not made up entirely of falsehoods — e.g. Fayed’s son Dodi did indeed win the Producer’s Oscar for Chariots of Firethe story that Fayed gave the Mail's Brian Vine was made up largely of exaggerated half-truths and lies. Vine subsequently repeated Fayed's account in good faith.

    This article helped establish a widespread positive image of the Fayeds that proved impossible to reverse — despite information to the contrary — until the publication of the DTI Inspectors’ report five years later finally forced the British media to recognise Fayed as an unscrupulous liar and fantasist.



Saturday, 10 November 1984
The Fabulous Pharaoh

Why the Egyptian billionaire who owns a chunk of Harrods is so in love with England


SIX FLOORS above Park Lane, the Duke of Windsor’s former butler, Sydney, inclined a knee inside his striped trousers, stretched his black-jacketed arm and ceremoniously served a cup of Turkish coffee the colour of the Nile to his Egyptian master.

    ‘I got Sydney when I bought the Ritz Hotel in Paris,’ mused Mohamed Al-Fayed. ‘He said he came with the hotel. So here he is.’

    A phalanx of English gentlemen in black jackets and striped trousers greet visitors at the ground floor entrance of Mohamed’s palatial London headquarters overlooking Hyde Park. They are not for decoration. Before you get to the presence of this fabulous Pharaoh, a guard sizes you up. For security’s sake, the lift to Mohamed's office — as protected as King Tut’s tomb with its 400-year-old pale oak panelling, ivory miniature elephants and baronial desk — carries only two people. And at discreet distances, men whispering into hand-held mobile phones are to be observed.

YET the security, like so much about Mohamed, who, with his cheque for £138 million to buy a third of Harrods and the House of Fraser stores has emerged as a financial Goliath, is understated.

    ‘The Scots didn’t believe that some bloody Egyptian would enhance their heritage when I bought a castle in Scotland. But I spent a million pounds restoring it. And now they thank me for it,’ he said.

    Sitting in his cream leather chair, Mohamed, dressed in matching grey silk shirt and corduroy trousers, chortled: ‘I don't have to wear a tie today because I’m not going to the City.’

    Mohamed and his brothers Ali and Salah, have climbed a commercial and social Everest since their great-Grandfather, Ali Al-Fayed, founded the family fortunes a century ago by growing cotton on the banks of the Nile and exporting it in his own ships to the mills of Lancashire.

    Mohamed's tonnage in freighters plying the Mediterranean makes him an ‘Onassis’ of Cargo. He owns the Hotel Ritz in Paris, worth £80 million. Balnagown castle 40 miles north of Inverness and the seat of the Earls of Ross, an estate of 32,000 acres in Easter Ross and Sutherland, a chunk of Mayfair, a choice piece of Rockefeller Plaza, New York, offices in Geneva, Genoa, Paris, New York and London, oil companies, banks, a mansion in the Home Counties, his own blend of Al-Fayed whisky, a stag herd on Ben More — and a specially tailored kilt in the Clan Ross, which he has claims upon as laird of their ancestral home.

    One half of the explanation for his Englishness can be credited to his English nanny, and to his education in one of the pre-Nasser English-style public schools, Victoria, in Alexandria where he was caned and stuffed full of crumpets by Oxbridge-educated masters.

    Such faith had he in British values that he sent his son Dodi to Sandhurst and proudly puffed out his chest when he graduated at the Sovereign’s Parade.

    The other half of the explanation to his fierce patriotism was contained in the way he told me : ‘I’ve been offered all sorts of nationalities to take my business to those countries. But to me, Britain has a great civilised way of life.

    ‘Ethics and morals count here like nowhere else in the world.’

    Britain’s gain was Egypt’s loss when Mohamed and the Fayed brothers left Egypt the year after King Farouk abdicated.

    ‘When I bought 20 per cent of Richard Costain, the British construction firm I was determined to help it if I could. British workers did gain. I personally negotiated one billion pounds-worth of business, keeping thousands of Britons in jobs.

    ‘And when Costain’s couldn’t handle the business, I made sure it went to other British firms.’

    Later, in exchange for his Costain shares, he took a brief directorship of Lonrho from Tiny Rowland. And last week Mohamed bought his 29.9 per cent of Harrods and the Fraser shops from Tiny after the tycoon’s seven-year battle to gain the Harrods jewel appeared to come to a halt.

    ‘When we do something in business we like to do it with love and affection. The British have business traditions which we love.

    ‘At first the French questioned our intentions. I suppose they thought “bloody Egyptians coming to Paris and buying our Ritz Hotel. They’ll ruin it”! But they found out that I like to do things the right way or not at all.’

    And Sydney Johnson, the Duke of Windsor’s butler, did not have to press Mohamed to resurrect the hotel’s Duke of Windsor Suite.

    ‘Sydney advised me on what it was once like. I think I spent a million dollars on the suite which has three bedrooms. And Sydney helped decorate it with paintings of the Duke and Duchess, which they had given him after his 35 years’ service.’
BUTLER Sydney gracefully dispenses eight-year-old Scotch, ‘distilled, blended and bottled, especially for the Al-Fayeds.’ As Mohamed says: ‘I am the first to recognise that Harrods is a national institution. It has a character of its own and a reputation for quality which, as you can see, I admire most of all.’

    Mohamed also brought excellence to Britain’s film industry.

    ‘I put my money up for Chariots of Fire when no one else wanted to. The story had already been hawked around for two years.’

    It was at his insistence that everybody in the film, every piece of cloth or set, was British.

    The producer’s Oscar given to his son, Dodi, now 28, stands proudly in his private apartment at Manhattan’s Pierre Hotel.
    Dodi was the child of his first marriage which ended many years ago, and he now has a Finnish wife and two children, a five-year-old daughter and an 18-month-old son. But Mohamed tells me quickly that his brother Ali is married to an English girl and his children have British passports.

    Yet he loves to joke about being a ‘bloody Egyptian’, and with impeccable timing he saves his best story for last.

    When he bought Sir Charles Ross’s castle, he also inherited the Laird’s kilt with it: ‘When I tried it on it looked like a mini skirt,’ he recalled. ‘So I had another one made — for propriety’s sake.’ A huge laugh. You could have heard it across Hyde Park to Harrods.

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