Agency: Bartle Bogle Hegarty
By Mark Banham, mediaweek.co.uk, Wednesday, 06 April 2011 04:28PM
Mohamed Al Fayed, who has been named as a surprise candidate in the running to buy Richard Desmond's national newspapers, is principally known for his prior ownership of the high-end store Harrods, and also his interest in Fulham Football Club.
His business interests started when he founded a shipping company with his brothers in his home country of Egypt, and then moved his headquarters to Genoa in Italy and set up an additional office in London, where he set up home.
Al Fayed became resident in the UK in 1974. He joined the board of the mining conglomerate Lonrho in 1975, but left after a difference of opinion.
In 1979, Al Fayed bought The Ritz hotel in Paris, on which he is understood to have spent $500,000 (£307,000) per room in restoration costs.
In 1984, Al Fayed and his brothers obtained a 30% stake in the House of Fraser group, which owned Harrods, from Roland ‘Tiny’ Rowland, the head of Lonrho.
In 1994, House of Fraser went public. However, Al Fayed retained private ownership of Harrods.
Al Fayed has been involved in publishing before, when he relaunched satirical magazine Punch in 1996, but it folded again in 2002.
Harrods was eventually sold to Qatar Holdings on 10 May 2010 for £1.5bn, with Al Fayed planning to use half of the proceeds to pay back bank debts of £625m.
Prior to this Al Fayed said: "People approach us from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar. Fair enough. But I put two fingers up to them. It is not for sale."
Al Fayed bought second division club Fulham FC from chairman Jimmy Hill in the summer of 1997.
At the weekend, Al Fayed upset Fulham fans by erecting a statue of the late pop star Michael Jackson outside the club's Craven Cottage stadium.
Jackson’s only contact with the club was during a brief visit to its Craven Cottage ground in 1999. The statue is understood to have cost £100,000.
Unveiling the statute, Al Fayed said; "If some stupid fans don't understand and appreciate such a gift this guy gave to the world, they can go to hell."
If Al Fayed follows through on his interest in The Express and Star titles, he may well be motivated to use the papers to air his grievances with Britain's royal family.
The newspaper group has been known, under recently departed editor Peter Hill, to contribute more than its fair share of stories on the late Princess Diana, who died in August 1997 with Al Fayed's oldest son, Dodi, in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris, along with their driver Henri Paul.
After his son’s death, Al Fayed attacked the royal family, accusing Prince Phillip and Prince Charles of plotting to kill Diana and Dodi as they were unhappy with Diana’s new relationship.
He has also claimed that former prime minister Tony Blair, MI5, MI6 and the British ambassador to France were all part of the conspiracy.
Al Fayed said that Princess Diana "knew Prince Philip and Prince Charles were trying to get rid of her", and that she had told him that she was pregnant with his son’s child.
Questioned by Ian Burnett QC, counsel to the inquest into the deaths, and asked if he stood by his claim that Diana and Dodi were "murdered by the British security services on the orders of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh", Al Fayed replied: "Yes".
This article was first published on mediaweek.co.uk