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The Crown: Who are Mohamed and Dodi al-Fayed?

The Egyptian billionaire and his late son, who died with Princess Diana, are portrayed in season five of the hit Netflix series
Dodi al-Fayed (left, portrayed by actor Khalid Abdalla) and his father Egyptian billionaire Mohamed (Salim Daw) in season five of The Crown (Netflix)

Queen Elizabeth II was no stranger to high profile figures from the Middle East.

During her seven decade reign, she rubbed shoulders with many leaders in the region - some of whom went on to be executed, exiled or become international pariahs.

But one of the most significant figures from the Arab world to enter the orbit of the British royal family in recent decades was not a king or president - but an Egyptian billionaire.

Mohamed al-Fayed and his late son Dodi feature prominently in the latest season of the Netflix hit show The Crown, which depicts the Queen's life, with a full episode dedicated to their backstory.

Middle East Eye takes a look at the life of the tycoon who courted and later shunned the British establishment, and his socialite son who was tragically killed with Diana, Princess of Wales.

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Mohamed al-Fayed and the Khashoggis 

Fayed (portrayed in The Crown by Palestinian actor Salim Daw) was born in Alexandria in 1929, at a time when Egypt had become newly independent from British rule, but was still heavily influenced by the colonial power.

While he has given many, often false, accounts of the dynastic wealth of his ancestors, his father was most likely to have been either a teacher or school inspector.

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In 1952, Fayed met a young Adnan Khashoggi, who would go on to become a well-known Saudi billionaire arms dealer.

Khashoggi's father Mohammed was the personal doctor of Ibn Saud, the first king of Saudi Arabia

Impressed by Fayed's business acumen, Khashoggi gave him a job in his furniture company, and it was not long before the Egyptian was helping to generate large profits. 

He married Khashoggi's sister Samira, aged 18 at the time, in 1954. The following year, she gave birth to their only son Emad El-Din Mohamed Abdel Mena'em Fayed, better known as Dodi. The two divorced when Dodi was just four years old.

Among Samira's nephews, and Dodi's cousins, was MEE journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed by Saudi agents in Istanbul in 2018.

Business empire

The 1952 Egyptian revolution ushered in the presidency of Gamal Abdel Nasser and the 1956 Suez Crisis - and allowed Fayed to buy a shipping business at a discount price in the late 50s.

The following decade, he relocated to the UK, from where the emerging magnate became an advisor to the Sultan of Brunei - then among the richest people in the world.

He also aided former Dubai ruler Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, helping to build up the infrastructure of the city and introduce British companies to it, earning large commissions as a go-between.

He later went on to buy a string of high profile assets: the Ritz hotel in Paris in 1979, department store Harrods in London in 1984 (which was sold to Qatar's sovereign wealth fund in 2010) and Fulham football club in 1997 (sold in 2013).

Fayed married former Finnish model Heidi Wathen in 1985, with whom he has four children.

The latest season of The Crown features the episode "Mou Mou" (after Fayed's nickname), which makes a point of the billionaire's attempts to fit into British high society, and in particular, woo the royal family.

mohamed al fayed harrods british passport
Billionaire Mohamed al-Fayed shows off a card in the form of an oversized British passport during a press conference in London on 13 November 1996 (Reuters)

On that basis, in 1986 he leased the former home of Edward VIII, the former king who abdicated the throne in 1936. Together with the former monarch's valet Sydney Johnson, Fayed renovated the home and renamed it "Villa Windsor", allegedly in the hope of currying favour with the Queen.  

But his attempts to assimilate did not always work: a UK government report concluded that he had lied about his origin and his wealth, and he was twice rejected for British citizenship.

In 1994, in what came to be known as the "cash for questions affair", he revealed he had paid MPs to ask questions on his behalf in parliament. It ended the careers of two parliamentarians and a committee was subsequently established to prevent it from happening again. 

The socialite filmmaker

For his son Dodi, the separation of his parents at a young age led to a childhood spent globetrotting and attending one prestigious private school after another. 

He studied at the exclusive Le Rosay school in Switzerland before enrolling in the Sandhurst military academy in southeast England. He later briefly joined the United Arab Emirates air force as a junior officer stationed in London. 

In the capital, Dodi earned a reputation as a socialite with a penchant for luxury cars and famous women. 

He was frequently pictured with, and rumoured to be dating, high-profile figures including Brooke Shields, Julia Roberts, Winona Ryder and Tina Sinatra. 

But sources close to him told The Guardian that while he hired a publicist to make sure he was photographed with celebrities, he may not have actually dated them. He married model Suzanne Gregard in 1986, but they divorced just eight months later. 

Dodi is portrayed in The Crown by actor Khalid Abdalla, a long-time friend of British-Egyptian prisoner Alaa Abd el-Fattah, who recently ended a hunger strike in prison. 

Abdalla refuses to call Dodi a "playboy", explaining in an interview that rather than a "larger-than-life Hugh Hefner type", he was an endearing person with a "love of sentimentality". 

Following his military stint, Dodi pursued a career in the film industry, becoming an executive producer on several films, including Chariots of Fire, which won four Oscars in 1982.

During the Oscar acceptance speech, producer David Puttnam thanked Mohamed and Dodi al-Fayed for "put[ting] their money where my mouth is". 

Puttnam later recalled that he threw Dodi off the set of the film for allegedly giving cocaine to the cast members.

Dodi and Diana 

Dodi and Princess Diana are thought to have first briefly met during a polo match in 1986, when she was still married to Prince Charles. 

But it was in the summer of 1997, after Diana's divorce, when they first spent time together. Diana was invited by Dodi's father to his yacht in Saint Tropez, bringing along the young princes William and Harry. 

Diana returned to the yacht, named Jonikal, weeks later without her children. It was then she was photographed kissing Dodi, making front page headlines all over the world.

dodi al fayed and princess diana cruise st tropez
Diana, Princess of Wales and Egyptian businessman Dodi al-Fayed cruise off the coast of Saint Tropez, France on 22 August 1997 (Reuters)

They holidayed together in the south of France and Sardinia. It was upon their subsequent return to Paris when both died in a fatal crash.

After leaving the Ritz Paris on 31 August 1997, they were killed, along with driver Henri Paul, in an accident at the Pont de L'alma tunnel.

An Islamic funeral was held for Dodi at a mosque in central London, and he was initially buried in a cemetery in the capital, before later being transported to his father's property in Surrey.

In 2005, Fayed erected a bronze statue of Dodi and Diana dancing in Harrods, above the phrase "innocent victims". The statue was removed and returned to the billionaire in 2018.

For years, Fayed insisted that the deaths were not an accident, and became a proponent of a conspiracy theory that the British royal family was involved. He hired a team of private investigators to look into the incident.

Fayed alleged that Diana was pregnant with Dodi's child, and the two had intended to marry - claims roundly denied by those close to the princess.

It was only after an official inquest in 2008 declared that the two had been "unlawfully killed" due to the intoxicated chauffeur Paul that Fayed gave up his attempts out of respect to William and Harry.

"I'm leaving the rest for God to get my revenge," he said at the time.

Fayed, who is now aged 93, currently lives between his estates in Surrey and Scotland. He has stepped out of the public eye in recent years, particularly after a string of accusations of sexual harrassment and assault. According to Forbes, in May, Fayed's net worth stood at £1.6bn ($1.9bn).

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