At Harrods, sympathy and shopping mix Consumers flock to London store owned by father of Dodi Al Fayed

Mourners pay their respects

'Will never be quite normal ever again,' says spokesman for retailer

September 02, 1997|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON -- Yesterday was a time for offering sympathy as well as shopping for luxuries at Harrods department store, the crown jewel of the Fayed family empire.

Consumers from around the world flocked to London's most famous department store to pay respects to Dodi Al Fayed, killed with Britain's Princess Diana and their driver in a car accident Sunday in Paris.

The mourners formed two lines to sign condolence books and lay flowers at the store owned by Fayed's billionaire father, Mohamed Al Fayed. One line began at a display window featuring a black Gucci suit and Escada handbag. The other started at the window with the Richard Tyler jacket and Jill Sander trousers.

Overhead, the 11,000 lights that normally illuminate the store's ornate facade were turned off.

A British Union Jack flew at half mast.

"When I worked in London, this used to be my corner shop," said Nubia Jones, who came in from a London suburb to purchase Harrods' bread and sign one of the books. "There really is no other place like this in the world. And to see this it's all so very sad.

She had something to say, too, about the high-profile summer love affair between 42-year-old Fayed and Diana.

"Diana and Dodi were very much in love. Weren't they?"

While most of the country -- and the world -- remained riveted by Diana's death, many here still paused in their workday to come to Harrods and recall Fayed, the millionaire film producer who was buried Sunday after a 25-minute Muslim service at a London mosque.

They also came to shop.

Harrods lies in the midst of the "Tiara Triangle" -- 3 square miles carved out of London's swanky neighborhoods, Knightsbridge and Kensington. This is where royals and tourists alike drool over everything from fine diamonds to oranges.

"It has to be business as normal, although it will never be quite normal ever again," a Harrods spokesman said. "We have 5,000 staff. Harrods is a great British institution and it has to carry on, however difficult that is given present circumstances."

Until his summer romance with Diana, Fayed was a minor player in newspaper gossip columns. He was often referred to as a divorced playboy with a string of gorgeous ex-girlfriends.

Fayed's mother, Samira, was the sister of arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi. His parents divorced when he was 2. He was educated at a string of elite prep schools and attended Britain's Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst in England.

For years, he lived in his father's considerable shadow.

Egyptian-born Mohamed Al Fayed is a major player in international business circles, a former adviser to the Sultan of Brunei. He built a financial stake in Middle East construction in the 1960s.

The elder Fayed's empire includes Harrods and the Ritz Hotel in Paris -- where Diana and Dodi had their final meal Saturday night. He also owns the once renowned, but lately faltering magazine Punch and the lower-division English soccer team Fulham.

Despite his possessions, the elder Fayed craved being accepted by Britain's establishment, sponsoring royal horse shows and elite ballets, and often appearing by the side of Queen Elizabeth II and Diana.

He even restored the Paris home where the Duke and Duchess of Windsor spent their years in exile after the abdication in which Edward VIII gave up the British throne to marry Baltimore's Wallis Warfield Simpson. The contents of the home are due to be auctioned for charity next week -- a sale that may be postponed.

But the elder Fayed has never cleared one establishment hurdle -- his application for British citizenship has been denied.

Yet as the mourners paused in front of the windows of Fayed's store, there was little talk of politics, or even commerce.

Mostly, the crowd spoke of a love affair that ended in tragedy.

Pub Date: 9/02/97

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