Untold stories in the death of a princess
31 August, 2017 — By John Gulliver
Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1995
WHILE TV flooded screentime with documentaries on the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana’s death I wondered about a couple of things – why was so little, if any, airtime given to her various boyfriends, Hasnat Khan, the Pakistani surgeon, and Dodi Fayed, son of the ebullient ex-owner of Harrods, and what if the story had been about an ordinary woman who had gone off the rails?
It struck me that the public would have been less sympathetic if the fallen woman had been, say, a working-class mother who had left her children and gone off partying, eventually dying in a car driven by a drunken driver.
Diana had a lot to rebel against – a dysfunctional royal family, a husband with a mistress and a world that made unfair demands of her. Alert, able to get close to ordinary people, she escaped her unhappy marriage doing good public deeds. Hers was a tragic death. If only the public were willing to see other women who break the rules with the same sense of humanity?
As for the Fayeds, the father, Mohamed, has been demonised as a scheming rich upstart who wanted his son to marry into royal circles.
He may have been but he didn’t seem like that when I met him in the late 90s. I was writing at the time about the plight of an elderly woman who had been made homeless by her West Hampstead landlord, and was sleeping on the steps of her old house as a protest. I thought Mohamed Al-Fayed might help her because she was a converted Muslim and blagged my way to the penthouse “office” of the big man at Harrods accompanied by the homeless woman.
Mohamed Al-Fayed (left) and Omar Fayed. PHOTOS: ABI SKIPP/PHOTO: ABI SKIPP
Opening the door I was met by Al-Fayed’s side-kick, a PR minder, and at the other end of the office, the man himself. I told them her story, and hoped Al-Fayed would consider laying out a few thousand to help this desperate woman but he didn’t put his hand in his pocket. He was full of smiles, sympathetic, but that’s where it stopped.
His son Omar seemed entirely different. I met him several years ago after a reader had alerted me to a scheme for the refurbishment of a block in Southampton Row, Holborn, where to my surprise the developer was the young Fayed – in his 20s, shy, and full of ideas to refurbish the building and make it “green” with a façade of thick foliage. He wrote his name and phone number in my notebook with a scrawling, untutored hand, and was very friendly, in a genuine sort of way. He had ideas about making the capital more of a “green” city – he was clearly big on ecology – and explained he had already revamped another building in central London.
After we had exchanged emails, we met for a coffee in the basement of a café a couple of doors from the office, along with a friend, a Brazilian. He said that he and his friend lived in nearby Camden Square, and were sailing around the world in a schooner he had fitted out – which must have cost a few million – to spread the message of the green movement.
I mentioned I had met his father, and then his tenor changed – his face looked less relaxed but it seemed to have nothing to do with his father but something to do with his brother Dodi.
Suddenly, he whispered his brother’s name, and he looked on the verge of tears.
Grief, bereavement, the death of his older brother – whom he clearly revered – in the car crash, was too painful a memory at that point, and we broke up the meeting. I haven’t seen him since, and no doubt he is still equally enthusiastic about the future of the planet, but the meeting made me realise there were many casualties in the dying moments of Princess Diana.