How the Real-Life Story of Mohamed and Dodi al-Fayed Compares to Their Depiction in The Crown

Warning: This post contains spoilers for The Crown.

Princess Diana is the undeniable star of Season 5 of the The Crown. Played by Elizabeth Debicki, the people’s princess takes center stage in the latest season of the Netflix series as she divorces Charles and establishes a new life on her own terms. We follow her romance with Dr. Hasnat Khan (Humayun Saeed) and get hints of a future fling with Dodi Fayed (Khalid Abdalla), the man who eventually died alongside Diana and their driver Henri Paul in a tragic car crash on Aug. 31, 1997.

You are reading: How the Real-Life Story of Mohamed and Dodi al-Fayed Compares to Their Depiction in The Crown

An entire episode of the show is dedicated to Dodi and his father, Mohamed al-Fayed (Aamir El-Masry, and then Salim Daw), the billionaire who longed to enter the inner circle of the British upper class. Mohamed and Diana became fast friends, and the show suggests they bonded over their outsider status. The series outlines how al-Fayed’s means could offer Diana the protection she required—from private bodyguards and yachts and villas to luxe vacations— after her divorcée status banished her from royal circles. Mohamed also seemed eager for Dodi and Diana to connect: Dodi was reportedly engaged to someone else when his father invited him on vacation with Diana and her sons, William and Harry.

Here’s everything you need to know about Dodi and his father.

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Who was Mohamed al-Fayed?

The Egyptian billionaire was a fixture of the London upper-class long before he ever met Princess Diana. His background is a bit of a mystery. He was born in Alexandria, but his birth date is disputed, according to the BBC. And while he once claimed to the press that he hailed from a long line of wealthy cotton growers, he later said his father was a teacher, according to The Independent.

In 1954, he married Samira Khashoggi, the sister of a Saudi Arabian arms dealer named Adnan Khashoggi. Before the couple divorced, they had one child together, Emad El-Din Mohamed Abdel Mena’em Fayed, otherwise known as Dodi. Dodi attended prestigious schools like Sandhurst military academy in the U.K. where Prince William and Prince Harry would eventually go to school.

Mohamed al-Fayed ran a shipping business, advised the Sultan of Brunei, and briefly worked for a mining conglomerate before moving to England in the 1970s.

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How did Mohamad al-Fayed come to own the Ritz in Paris and Harrods in London?

In 1979, Mohamad bought the famous Ritz hotel in Paris, and in 1985, he added the iconic London department store Harrods to his holdings. That same year, he married Finnish model Heini Wathen. They had four children together.

The purchase of Harrods was just the first of many that al-Fayed hoped would help buy his way into British high society. The store stood for Britishness itself, and al-Fayed would continue to snap up buildings and institutions with similar symbolic heft. He later acquired Punch Magazine, the Fulham soccer team, and finally the Parisian villa that had once belonged to the former King Edward VIII and his wife, Wallis Simpson, after Edward abdicated the throne. No doubt al-Fayed hoped to catch the eye of the Queen by restoring her uncle’s home to its former glory.

If al-Fayed hoped these purchases would enchant the royals, he misjudged the Queen and her inner circle. The British upper-crust kept him at a distance, and he found himself more of an outsider than ever. The sale of Harrods, in particular, stirred up animosity in England. A competitor for the store claimed that al-Fayed lied about his income to seal the deal. Al-Fayed denied the claims but became embroiled in investigations and lawsuits. The scandal ensnared Prime Minister John Major’s government when al-Fayed paid two senior Conservative politicians to ask questions in Parliament on behalf of Harrod’s—a move that was not technically illegal, but definitely questionable.

There was, no doubt, some bigotry at play in the press’ assessment of al-Fayed as a desperate social climber who couldn’t quite grasp the elusive rules by which the upper class live. Al-Fayed applied to become a British citizen twice, and both times he was denied. Later in life, al-Fayed would call Prince Philip a “racist.”

Who was Dodi al-Fayed?

Dodi al-Fayed was best known as a partier. In The Crown, he romances a girlfriend on a private jet outfitted with a bed and plenty of cocaine. In real life, before he met Diana, he was photographed in the tabloids with actors like Brooke Shields, Julia Roberts, and Winona Ryder, though sources close to him told The Guardian that he may not have actually dated these women. He hired a powerful publicist to make sure he was photographed on dates with celebrities.

In 1986, he married the model Suzanne Gregard, but they divorced eight months later. On The Crown, Dodi is depicted as desperate for his father’s approval. He wants to show off his wealth, especially to the women in his life, but resents having to ask his father to fund his lavish lifestyle.

How was the family involved in Chariots of Fire?

Dodi also had a passion for film. With his family’s money, he helped produce Chariots of Fire, a British historical drama about Olympic runners. According to Tina Brown’s biography of Diana, The Diana Chronicles, Dodi was eventually thrown off set by the director for giving cocaine to the actors. Still, the movie went on to win Best Picture at the Oscars in 1981. On The Crown, Mohamed stays up late into the night to see if Chariots will win—and if his name will be mentioned during the acceptance speech.

How did Diana meet Mohamed and Dodi?

Elizabeth Debicki as Diana in <i>The Crown</i> (Netflix)
Elizabeth Debicki as Diana in The Crown
Netflix

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It’s not clear when Diana first encountered Dodi, but it may have been at a 1986 polo match in Windsor. Diana’s then-husband Charles and Dodi played on opposite teams.

The Crown depicts Diana meeting Mohamed for the first time at such a match. Mohamed has sponsored the event, which he believes will earn him the right to sit next to the Queen. The Queen avoids him and instead deploys her daughter-in-law Diana to entertain the billionaire. Diana and Mohamed immediately start joking about how the Queen has rejected them both. Diana briefly smiles at Dodi, but they do not yet have a conversation.

Though it is not depicted on Season 5 of The Crown, Diana and Dodi’s first real meeting was on Dodi’s father’s yacht. Brown writes that Diana had initially hoped to spend the summer of 1997 in the Hamptons but was told by her security it was not safe. Mohamed al-Fayed invited her to bring Will and Harry to his villa in the South of France where they could rely on his private security.

Diana was also going through a breakup with the heart surgeon Hasnat Khan, who had become overwhelmed by her celebrity. So she was in a particularly emotionally vulnerable place when she met Dodi three days into her trip to France.

Al-Fayed summoned Dodi to the yacht, though his son was reportedly engaged to model Kelly Fisher at the time. On the trip, the two grew close. No doubt, Season 6 will cover Diana and Dodi’s meeting and romance, as well as their tragic demise.

How long did Diana and Dodi date?

It was a whirlwind romance. The two had only been dating for a few months when they died in the car crash.

What has Mohamed al-Fayed said about Diana and Dodi’s death?

Al-Fayed long insisted that the car crash in which Diana and Dodi died was not an accident. He hired investigators and appealed the findings of the official French investigation into the crash multiple times.

Al-Fayed suggested the British royal family might have somehow been involved because they wanted to cover up the fact that Diana and Dodi were pregnant and planned to marry. Meanwhile, people close to Diana have consistently denied that Diana was expecting or that she planned to marry Dodi. Brown writes that sources close to Diana told her the princess “had no intention of marrying Dodi Fayed but had a dalliance with him merely to annoy Charles and the Royal Family”.

Still, in November 2008, Fayed read written testimony before the Royal Courts of Justice. “She told me that she knew Prince Philip and Prince Charles were trying to get rid of her,” he said, according to the New York Times. “They cleared the decks. They murdered her.”

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