An Era Ends: Al Fayed Sells Harrods to the Qataris

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 5/08/2010 04:24:00 PM
Here's another of my periodic stories that I hope shed light on London's brilliant parade. Love it or loath it, there is no town quite like this one. I've had a morbid fascination with the spectacularly tasteless Dodi and Diana statue in the foyer of Harrods for the longest time. Recalling the tragic death of his son Dodi Fayed and Princess Diana, longtime Harrods owner Mohamed Al Fayed commissioned what I still think is one of the most questionable monuments of our age. In a bit of historical revisionism, Dodi is depicted as having the body of a Greek god ready for Men's Health cover duty. But, of course, the ultimate historical revisionist account has long been offered by his father, Mohamed Al Fayed, who claims that their deaths were the result of an MI6 hit job. A lover of crackpot conspiracy theories would be delighted with Al Fayed's version about Prince Philip ordering this hit while Diana was pregnant with the child of Dodi Fayed. Needless to say, no evidence has ever been marshalled to either effect, and he eventually gave up pursuit of this far-fetched claim.

Now, one of my as yet unrealized get-rich-quick schemes has involved crafting figurines modelled after the "Innocent Victims" statue and selling them to Japanese tourists. I thought about the wax figure of Mr Al Fayed in the men's section, too, but it doesn't have a similar grip on the imagination. I'd set up a makeshift stall outside the stores and, voila, loads of easy money. (For some reason, I never thought Chinese tourists--as plentiful as they are nowadays--were quite as camp as Japanese ones, but who knows?) Dodi and Di consipiracy theories aside, you must still give credit to Al Fayed for remaking Harrods into what it remains today: the world's most famous department store. Those old enough to remember the store prior to Al Fayed's purchase in 1985 still recall how its merchandising was not up to par to the global emporium which it is now regarded as. The premises were also in need of refurbishment.

But alas! The newswires are abuzz with the news that Al Fayed has now sold it to those natural gas magnates of the world, the Qataris. Or, more specifically, their holding company. This news comes hot on the heels of him showing potential suitors "the finger" just a few weeks ago. Yes, great sales talk as usual:
Harrods, the world famous department store, has been sold for more than £1.5bn to the Qatari royal family, Times Online can confirm. Mohamed al-Fayed, the Egyptian owner of the London landmark, has decided to retire and will hand over the reins to Qatar Holding. The firm was chosen because they would "maintain the traditions of Harrods", said Ken Costa, chairman of Lazard International - the investment bank advising the family trust on the deal.

Fayed received advances from Gulf-based suitors in the last two months, but initially offered them “two fingers” in a vehement refusal. “People approach us from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar. Fair enough, but I put two fingers up to them all,” Fayed said last month. “It is not for sale. This is not Marks & Spencer or Sainsbury. It is a special place that gives people pleasure. There is only one Mecca.”

But today Costa confirmed that the owner of Fulham football club has changed his mind. "After 25 years as chairman of Harrods, Mohamed al-Fayed has decided to retire and to spend more time with his children and grandchildren,” Costa said. Costa said Fayed’s family trust agreed to sell because Qatar Holding had “both the vision and financial capacity” to support the long-term growth of Harrods.

Fayed “wished to ensure that the legacy and traditions that he has built up in Harrods would be continued”, he added. The Egyptian has invested around £400m in the Knightsbridge icon to restore it to its former glory, including £75m for an Egyptian-themed escalator flanked by sphinxes. Qatar Holding, which handles investments for the Middle Eastern state’s royals, will become only the fifth owner of Harrods since its creation in 1840.
The Al Fayed story at Harrods may be diminishing but remain intact as he will remain its honorary chairman. However, the real question for me is, what will become of "Innocent Victims"? Given my druthers, it would be bound for the wrecking ball right this instant, but Al Fayed's continuing role may mean it staying on the premises as well. So, maybe my dreams of amassing a small fortune flogging Dodi and Di figurines to tourists is still in the cards.

For all his foibles, the highest tribute you can give to Mohamed Al Fayed is that he's still the top retailer in a nation of shopkeepers. He is one international owner who understood the tradition of the brand he purchased and definitely improved it.