The Egyptian businessman was deemed 'not a fit and proper person to be given (British) citizenship'. Today, he would probably be in the House of Lords
When Mohamed Al Fayed passed away, he took with him a memory of a Britain that has all but faded.
What kind of Britain was that?
One that was self-assertive and arrogant, despite its status as a post-imperial country. One that could say of Al Fayed’s second unsuccessful application that he “was not a fit and proper person to be given (British) citizenship”.
In 1994, Al Fayed – who, by then owned Harrods department store and Fulham Football Club – sought a UK passport but the Conservative government rejected his application. In 1999, he tried again, apparently that Britain had granted citizenship to his brother Ali despite a Department of Trade and Industry report that branded the Fayed brothers cheats and liars.
He continued desperately to want to belong to Britain but despite his efforts –buying a Scottish castle, wearing a kilt, sponsoring the Royal Horse Show at Windsor – he remained an outsider, seen as vulgar by a crusty British establishment. An Egyptian passport-holder, he reached that pinnacle of British life – a wax figure at Madame Tussauds – but was never granted citizenship. As it turns out, his passing – on September 1, aged 94 – has been publicly noted without much approval, highlighting the controversies around him and the fact that his son, Dodi, died alongside Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997.
The experience of apparently being rejected by Britain embittered Al Fayed. The New York Times quotes a 1995 interview: “It’s the colonial, imperial fantasy. Anyone who comes from a colony, as Egypt was before, they think he’s nothing. So you prove you’re better than they are. You do things that are the talk of the town. And they think, ‘How can he? He’s only an Egyptian’.”
It’s a moot point if Al Fayed would be treated with quite so much derision today. After all, Britain has a Baron Lebedev. Evgeny Alexandrovich Lebedev, a crossbench life peer, is a Russian-British businessman whose father was an oligarch and former KGB officer. Controversially, he was nominated in 2020 for a life peerage by prime minister Boris Johnson for philanthropy and services to the media. Despite criticism that it may throw up issues of national security, Mr Johnson went ahead with his move to ennoble the businessman.
Perhaps Al Fayed simply lived in the wrong era of British politics.