Although I’ve not met Mohamed al Fayed, I know him well.
Contradiction? No. Have you noticed how the myth behind public figures
vanishes when one meets them? They can turn out to be engaging, even
charming. You are forced to reassess your opinion.
But I’m not tainted here by a personal acquaintance. What I see of him
is the public perception. And I see a man portrayed by the media with a
chip on his shoulder - allegedly so big it could keep McDonald’s in
business for decades. He owns Harrods, and he writes to the Times: both
symbols of British-ness. He’ll take over an ailing radio station - but
is this seen as more to demonstrate aspirant benevolence than business
sense? Does he deep down aspire to the English public schoolboy values
of a Richard Branson - when by contrast, the media portrays Mr al Fayed
as too earnest? Does he try too hard to be accepted by our
You decide. And Diana? I do know her, so I am tainted by acquaintance -
and I’m besotted. But was she wise to (presumably) accept al Fayed’s
invitation to the South of France? On one hand she can party with whom
she damned well likes. But this particular party played right into the
hands of her detractors: demonstrating a naivete at the consequent media
reaction, and even setting herself up for an unseemly photo-story while
remonstrating with the paparazzi, resplendent in leopard-print
Doesn’t this behaviour exonerate those same establishment figures with
whom al Fayed reportedly flirts?
Doesn’t it endorse their view that she is, after all, a ’loose cannon’,
not fit for that ’serious’ ambassadorial role? It’s the way some would
And the Palace? I’m afraid they seem to come out of this worst of
Again they show an apparent ineptitude by not anticipating events, and
not taking a consistent, proactive line. Why didn’t they know who she
was to be with, and advise accordingly? Of all UK institutions this
seems the one in most dire need of PR advice.
And al Fayed? The media may decree that he too has shot himself in the
PR foot by forging an association that is strategically off target -
Diana, not herself universally respected among those he seeks to
influence. A pretty futile exercise all round?