The Crown: Who is Mohamed Al-Fayed and did he really buy Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson’s home?

The third episode of season five of The Crown is unlike the others. The focus of the episode is taken away from the royal family and instead, placed on Mohamed Al-Fayed.

Al-Fayed is the father of Dodi Fayed, the film producer who died alongside Diana, Princess of Wales in that fateful Paris car crash in 1997.

The billionaire businessman is also known for owning the Hôtel Ritz Paris, and formerly Harrods and Fulham FC.

But who is Mohamed Al-Fayed and what connection does he have to the royal family?

Who is Mohamed Al-Fayed?

Mohamed Al-Fayed, 93, is a sometimes controversial self-made billionaire businessman who was born in Egypt in 1929.

He is the eldest son of a primary school teacher and has four siblings. Along with his brothers, he founded a shipping company in Egypt which subsequently moved its headquarters to Genoa in Italy.

He moved to London in the Sixties, before he met the former ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum who enlisted Al-Fayed to help build up the Emirati city. Al-Fayed introduced serval British companies to the city and also became a financial advisor to the Sultan of Brunei Omar Ali Saifuddien III, in 1966.

Al-Fayed bought The Ritz hotel in Paris in 1979, and Harrods in London in 1984, but he sold the latter to Qatar Holdings, the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, in 2010. He was also the owner of Fulham FC between 1997 to 2013.

Al-Fayed has fathered five children. His eldest son was Dodi Fayed who he shared with first wife, Saudi Arabian journalist Samira Khashoggi.

He also shares four children with second wife, Heini Al-Fayed: Camilla, Omar, Jasmine and Karim.

Mohamed Al-Fayed with his daughter Camilla in 2014 (Getty)
Mohamed Al-Fayed with his daughter Camilla in 2014 (Getty)

How is Mohamed Al-Fayed portrayed in The Crown?

In the opening scenes of episode three, a young Al-Fayed is shown in Egypt being fascinated by the visit of Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson.

Later, he is shown buying The Ritz and asks his son, Dodi (played by Khalid Abdalla), to dismiss a Black server. Later discovering this server, Sydney Johnson (played by Jude Akuwudike), was the Duke of Windsor’s former personal valet for 30 years, Al-Fayed hires Johnson as his own valet to teach him the ways of the royal family.

Al-Fayed (played by Salim Daw) is depicted in the fictional series as being enamoured with the royal family, the show suggesting that Al-Fayed even bought Harrods just so he could meet the Queen Elizabeth II. In the episode, Al-Fayed is shown to be snubbed by the Queen, only to be introduced to Diana, Princess of Wales who he forms a friendship with.

Later in the series, Diana reveals that Al-Fayed had invited her and her sons, William and Harry to vacation with her in the south of France in the summer of 1997.

In reality, Diana did take her sons to vacation with the Fayeds that summer, which is where she met Dodi and formed a romantic connection with him. Dodi died alongside Diana when her car crashed in Paris in August 1997.

Did Mohamed Al-Fayed really buy Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson’s French home?

Elsewhere in the third episode of season five of The Crown, Al-Fayed is shown buying the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s French home, Le Bois, in Bois de Boulogne, after Wallis Simpson died in 1986.

In reality, Al-Fayed did take out a 50-year lease on the 14-room, 19th century villa with the intention to turn it into a museum dedicated to the former King and his wife.

Khalid Abdalla and Salim Daw as Dodi Fayed and Mohamed Al-Fayed in The Crown (Netflix)
Khalid Abdalla and Salim Daw as Dodi Fayed and Mohamed Al-Fayed in The Crown (Netflix)

Al-Fayed, who met the Windsors just once, told the New York Times at the time of Edward VIII’s and Simpson’s relationship: “It was the romance of the century. Here was a great king of a great empire, saying goodbye to it all for a beloved woman. And I had the chance to preserve the house where he lived and all these objects. They’re the heritage of Britain, which is my second home.”

After completing a $12 million (£10.4 million) restoration on the renamed “Villa Windsor” in 1990, Al-Fayed told People: “It’s like a mausoleum. It sometimes gives you the creeps—both of them having died here. But it’s still a happy place, a great fantasy which I love to live in.”

Al-Fayed still owns Villa Windsor but it is not open to the public.

Who was Sydney Johnson?

Another major player in episode three of season five of The Crown was Sydney Johnson, the former valet of Edward VIII who became Al-Fayed’s personal valet in his later life.

Johnson first appeared in The Crown in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scene in season three, but season five showed just how much of an asset he was to Al-Fayed.

Johnson was born in the Bahamas and worked for the Duke of Windsor for 32 years after being hired at the age of 16. Johnson worked with Edwards VIII until the royal’s death in 1972 and resigned from his post in 1973 after his own wife’s death. According to a report from People this was because Wallis Simpson wouldn’t let him leave work after his wife’s passing to take care of his kids.

Elizabeth Debicki as Diana, Princess of Wales in The Crown (Netflix)
Elizabeth Debicki as Diana, Princess of Wales in The Crown (Netflix)

Johnson was soon hired by Al-Fayed as his own personal valet. In 1986 Al-Fayed said after purchasing Villa Windsor: “Sydney is a dictionary. He’s a very cultured man. He got all these things out of boxes and safes and storage rooms, and he knows their history.”

Johnson died in 1990, aged 69. At the time of his death, Al-Fayed said: “[He] was truly a gentleman’s gentleman. We shall miss him very much.”

Did Mohamed Al-Fayed ever meet the Queen?

In The Crown, Al-Fayed is seen trying to meet the Queen but to no avail. In real life he did meet Her Majesty, and was pictured with the monarch several times at the Royal Windsor Horse Show.