ON Page 66 LIFE Calls on the Duke and Duchess of Windsor
By CAROL VOGEL
Published: September 03, 1997 in The New York Times
Sotheby's announced yesterday that it was postponing its auction of more than 40,000 objects belonging to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor from the couple's famous Paris home. The announcement came as Sotheby's experts were putting the finishing touches on the objects' installation in preparation for the nine-day sale that was to begin at the auction house's York Avenue headquarters on Sept. 11. Sotheby's said the decision had been made in accord with the wishes of Mohamed al-Fayed, owner of the Windsors' villa and its contents, after the death on Sunday of Mr. Fayed's son Emad and Diana, Princess of Wales, in a car crash in Paris.
''As a mark of respect, I believe there should be an appropriate interval before the auction takes place,'' Mr. Fayed said in a statement issued yesterday. No new date has been set, but officials at Sotheby's said they were hoping the sale would occur early next year.
Mr. Fayed acquired the long-term lease for the turn-of-the-century Louis XVI-style stone villa on the fringes of the Bois de Boulogne along with its contents after the Duchess died in 1986. She had left the villa to the Pasteur Institute, the major beneficiary of her estate, which transferred the lease to Mr. Fayed.
The contents of the house, which were assembled by the Duke and Duchess with the help of Stephane Boudin of Maison Jansen, the Parisian decorators, have been restored by Mr. Fayed. He and his family have been living on the top floor of the house, and the rest has become a private museum. In July, when Sotheby's announced the sale, it said Mr. Fayed had decided to auction the couple's possessions primarily to gain space: he and his family needed more room and plan to take over the rest of the house.
Proceeds from the sale, projected at $5 million to $7 million, are to go to the Fayed International Charitable Foundation, which supports pediatric research.
''This will be the first major sale Sotheby's has ever postponed, but it was absolutely the right thing to do,'' said Diana D. Brooks, Sotheby's chief executive worldwide. ''There are times when commercial considerations have to be put aside, and you have to do what your moral compass tells you is right. Mr. Fayed was sensitive to the situation, but in his heart this obviously is what he was most comfortable with.''
Fayed to sell Windsors' Paris treasures
DAVID USBORNE NEW YORK TUESDAY 08 JULY 1997 in The Independent
Pleading lack of space for his family in the former Paris home of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor where he lives, Mohamed al Fayed is to sell the entire array of the couple's goods and chattels that have until now remained inside it.
The collection, which includes the desk at which the then King Edward VIII signed the papers of abdication in 1936, as well as a piece of the wedding cake from his marriage to the American-born Wallis Simpson, is to be auctioned by Sotheby's in New York over nine days from 11 to 19 September.
The largest single sale to be undertaken by Sotheby's, it is sure to generate excitement among the legions of devotees of all things British and royal, in the United States especially, and eclipse the Christie's sale of 79 dresses from Diana, the Princess of Wales, here two weeks ago.
Mr Fayed bought the Bois de Boulogne residence of the Windsors from the City of Paris in 1986 on a 50-year repairing lease. He moved with his family into what had been the servants' quarters on the top floor. At the same time, he acquired all of the couple's possessions from the Pasteur Institute to which they had been bequeathed by the Duchess, who died in 1986.
While the collection's value has been set at about pounds 3m, Diana Brooks, president of the auction house, said yesterday that she expected the final tally from the sale to be "well in excess" of that sum. Some are already valuing the entire batch of 40,000 items at pounds 30m.
Mr Fayed, the owner of Harrods and of the Paris Ritz hotel, said that the entire proceeds from the sale would be distributed to children's charities in Britain, continental Europe and North and South America. "You will understand that this has been a very, very difficult decision for Mr Al Fayed," his spokesman, Michael Cole, said in New York. However, he added that with his wife, Heini, and his four children, Mr Fayed could no longer live in the house without expanding into the lower floors.
Insisting on the uniqueness of the sale, Mr Cole added: "Never has there been, probably since the reign of King Charles I, this number of possessions of an English king come at once on to the market for sale."
Experts at Sotheby's were also adding their assessments of the importance of the auction. "Every object tells a story," declared Joe Friedman, director of English furniture. "Through the collection it is as if the Duke and Duchess themselves were telling their own story. There could be no more intimate or poignant a record."
Under the gavel will be items ranging from paintings by Munnings and Degas, coins, military pieces, and, perhaps above all, the full array of the couple's wardrobes which, in some eyes, set them apart as important arbiters of fashion and taste in the middle of the century.
January 08, 1990 in People
Egypt's Al Fayed Restores the House Fit for a Former KingBy Joyce Wadler, Fred Hauptfuhrer
The stately villa, in Paris's Bois de Boulogne, has an intimate feel: The clothes of the late master and mistress of the house, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, still hang in the closets. A portrait of the duchess, painted by Cecil Beaton shortly before the King of England renounced his throne for her in 1936, hangs over her tub. On the duke's bed is the rag doll given to him by his mother, Queen Mary. Even the man polishing glasses in the kitchen is a hand-me-down: Valet Sydney Johnson, 66, worked for the Windsors until the duke's death.
And if you think owning a residence with the previous occupants' linens still on the beds seems a little peculiar, the new tenant, Egyptian billionaire Mohamed Al Fayed, knows what you mean. "It's like a mausoleum," says Al Fayed, who spent $12 million for the furnishings and a just-completed renovation of the villa as a private museum. "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."
For the Anglophile Al Fayed, 60ish, adding the Windsor villa to an inventory of properties that includes a castle in Scotland, a country house in Surrey, a chalet in Gstaad and a penthouse on London's Park Lane fulfills a lifelong dream. "The impression of a great empire and a King dropping everything because of his love for a woman—this is what I lived with as a child," he says.
Leased from the city of Paris in 1952 by the duke and duchess for about $28 a year rent, the three-story villa became the site of life in the highest style. The royal crest of Edward, Prince of Wales, was emblazoned in brass upon the front door and carried as a theme throughout the interior. The staff numbered up to 19. Toilet tissue was unrolled and folded into squares by the servants. The couple's beloved pugs, tended by a footman, ate from silver bowls. For dinner parties, the duchess demanded the lettuce leaves be the same size and shape.
The guest list in the '50s and '60s was all glitter: Marlene Dietrich, Aristotle Onassis, Elizabeth Taylor, the Aga Khan. But there were times even the duke seemed to realize how empty such nonstop indulgence could be. "Do you know what my day was today?" he once asked a friend. "I got up late and then I went with the duchess and watched her buy a hat."
The duke died in 1972. Johnson, who had been in the duke's service since age 16, stayed on, but when his wife died the following year, the Windsors' loyal retainer was forced to resign. The duchess would not allow him to leave at 4 P.M. to look after his children, and his obstinacy on the issue made her bitter. "I never want to see you again," she told him.
"I have four children," he snapped. "Let me take care of my four children. And you take care of your four dogs." The duchess died 13 years later, at 89, after a series of strokes.
By then, the villa had fallen into disrepair. Furniture was marked with pug teeth marks; the roof was leaking. The sovereign's banner from Edward VIII's brief reign was tissue-thin and flaking. The duchess, so exacting about her possessions in life, was indifferent to their fate after her death. Her will stated that the Windsors' treasures should be disposed of by the executors and most of the proceeds given to the Pasteur Institute. Possession of the villa was to revert to the city of Paris.
Mohamed Al Fayed had other ideas. Known in France for his elegant restoration of the famed Ritz Hotel, he had made headlines in Britain the previous year by purchasing the 102-store House of Fraser retail chain—including the famous Harrods—for $842 million.
In the art of luxury living, Al Fayed, whose wealth is conservatively put at $7 billion, might have taught the Windsors a few things. He owns a helicopter and a 12-passenger Gulfstream jet. He is surrounded by an entourage of bodyguards, advisers and several decorous young female assistants. His first wife, Samira, sister of Adnan Khashoggi, was well connected; his second wife, Finnish-born Heini, is beautiful. (Al Fayed has one grown son, Dodi, a movie producer, from his first marriage and four young children from his second.)
Al Fayed—who made his first millions in construction and shipping—acquired a love for all things English as a child in Egypt. He dresses in Savile Row suits and need never fret about matching them up to the proper shirt—he owns Turnbuil & Asser, a blue-blooded haberdashery. Al Fayed met the duke and duchess just once, at a cocktail party at the villa in the '60s. "I was completely taken by their manner and their warmth," he says.
Some time before the death of the duchess, Paris Mayor Jacques Chirac, impressed by Al Fayed's work at the Ritz, spoke to him about leasing the villa. Al Fayed liked the idea of restoring the house—he had, after all, begun reclaiming the Windsors' realm in 1977 by hiring Johnson—but he suggested to Chirac that he also purchase the villa's contents. Keeping the Windsors' belongings together appealed to the executors of the estate as well. In 1986 Al Fayed leased the villa for 50 years for a nominal rent and set about restoring it.
But accounting for all of the villa's lavish furnishings soon put him at odds with the Windsor estate. On the estate's side, executor Maitre Suzanne Blum and historian Michael Bloch, who edited the Windsors' letters, claim that Al Fayed tried to obtain the duchess's jewels for a rock-bottom price. (These and other valuables were later sold at auction for $50.3 million.) "Haggling isn't the word for it," says Bloch. "It was like the grand bazaar at Constantinople." Al Fayed, who denies this charge, claims that executors swiped the Windsors' love letters and that a trustee spirited away the dining room table and chairs.
Still, Al Fayed managed to acquire most of the villa's contents for several million and spent several more refurbishing them. The Chippendale table at which the duke signed his letter of abdication was sent back to English furniture experts who reglued its joints and rejuvenated its tooled leather top. The duke's polo trophies and his ceremonial sword were sent to silversmiths to be reburnished. The tattered sovereign's banner was rewoven by French craftsmen.
Last month the work was completed, and Al Fayed chartered a 737 to fly 120 guests from London for an opening afternoon tea (and caviar) party. "Very tastefully done," said Earl Spencer, Princess Di's dad, who was among the guests. The party over, Al Fayed says two floors of the villa will be opened to "historians, members of the British royal family, personalities, friends and important guests of the Ritz." The extensively remodeled third floor he will use as a private apartment.
He does not see himself sleeping in the duke's bed or squeezing into one of his old dinner jackets. But he does plan to succeed where the Windsors failed, by keeping the villa in the family "as a good example for my children and grandchildren to follow in my path."
Joyce Wadler, Fred Hauptfuhrer in Paris
OUTSIDE LOOKING IN -Mohammed al Fayed-
By ROMESH RATNESAR Sunday, June 24, 2001 in Time Magazine World
For a few weeks this summer, much in the world seemed right for Mohammed al Fayed. In July, at his villa in St.-Tropez, the Egyptian tycoon personally set in motion a romance between the Princess of Wales and his eldest son Dodi by plucking him off one family yacht to join his father on another one nearby, where Diana was tanning. As the romance blossomed into the possibility of an engagement, al Fayed feigned nonchalance. "Normal people fall in love," he told an interviewer. "That's it." But al Fayed surely exulted inside. His battles with the British establishment--over his 1985 purchase of Harrods, his unrewarded quest for citizenship, his hand in bringing down Tory ministers--had left him embittered. In Diana he picked up the jewel both prized and tossed aside by the English elite, a diamond with an edge that could cut. Snaring her, and perhaps even installing her in the former residence of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (which al Fayed holds), would simultaneously concoct an alternative monarchy and remind the real one of a time when it had faltered.
But al Fayed's world collapsed that Sunday morning in Paris, when he lost the son he loved and the princess he sought, and, too, the chance for acceptance from the country he adopted. From the start of the fated relationship, the force that pulled Diana toward the Fayeds was powerful: beyond sharing their sense of rejection, the princess undoubtedly craved the cocoon made possible by Dodi's family planes and mini-palaces, as well as the glamour of his Ritzy life. And after years in a family repelled by emotion, here was a family driven by it, whether in its public vendettas or in its private Mediterranean moments. To embrace all this, Diana, having left one dynasty that had used her, was ready to enter another. The Fayeds and she would find redemption together.
The union of Diana and Dodi would have culminated three decades of exhaustive and expensive attempts by the sixtyish Mohammed al Fayed to prove his British bona fides by collecting some of the nation's trophies. In addition to Harrods, he owns the famed humor magazine Punch, the Fulham Football Club and Balnagow castle in Scotland; his millions have sponsored the annual Royal Windsor Horse Show, where he has shared the royal box with the Queen. Al Fayed's younger brother Ali owns Turnbull & Asser, the prestigious tailor used by Prince Charles and his sons William and Harry. And al Fayed has long courted Diana and her parents; he put her stepmother Raine on the board of Harrods. Diana's father Earl Spencer, while dying, reportedly told al Fayed to "keep an eye" on the family.
Despite these ingratiating efforts, and his considerable commitments to various charities, acceptance within the British elite has eluded al Fayed. In France his restoration of two fabled Paris properties, the Ritz Hotel and the Bois de Boulogne villa of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, earned him La Legion d'Honneur. But in Britain al Fayed could recite--and often did--a list of the many slights directed at him by the Establishment. After he poured $50 million into restoring the Windsor villa, he grumbled to the New York Times, "Not one single official said, 'Mohammed al Fayed, thank you. We are grateful.' Not one single letter."
From the start, al Fayed has portrayed himself as the victim of English arrogance, xenophobia and racism. Elites, he contends, resent him for owning Harrods. "It sticks in their throats," he told the Times. But the Fayeds have also inflicted much damage on themselves, starting with their unsuccessful attempts to rewrite their history. In 1985 the largely unknown Fayed brothers paid $689 million in cash for the House of Fraser retail chain (whose flagship was Harrods). Two years later, the Department of Trade and Industry--at the instigation of al Fayed's chief rival for control of Harrods--began investigating the family. Its report, published in 1990, concluded that the brothers did not hail, as they had claimed, from "an old Egyptian family" with a 100-year history of landownership and shipbuilding. "The image created...of their wealthy Egyptian ancestry was completely bogus," the report said. The government further concluded that the money al Fayed used to purchase Harrods could not have come from an inherited fortune, as he claimed, but was probably put up for al Fayed by his associate, the Sultan of Brunei, the world's wealthiest man.
Al Fayed was not accused of breaking any law, and he and the Sultan denied the charges. Al Fayed bitterly attacked the report as a smear. "They could not accept that an Egyptian could own Harrods, so they threw mud at me," he once said. But acquaintances of his in Alexandria also describe the Fayeds as a modest family: al Fayed's father was a language teacher, and al Fayed grew up on the rougher side of town. He started as a small-time trader there, selling Singer sewing machines and Coca-Cola. In the early 1950s the future Saudi billionaire Adnan Khashoggi offered al Fayed a share in a Khashoggi business that exported Egyptian-made furniture to Saudi Arabia. The company took off, and not long after, al Fayed married Khashoggi's sister Samira, who gave birth to Dodi in 1955. He divorced her after two years and went into the construction business in the United Arab Emirates. After befriending Dubai's ruler, al Fayed won big development contracts for British firms prowling the Persian Gulf. "Of course," says Khashoggi, "there were fees and commissions." This brokering was the foundation of the Fayed family fortune.
But even as he grew richer, al Fayed could not achieve his most cherished goal: to become a British citizen. The Fayed brothers' applications for citizenship stalled in the early '90s following the release of the report. It did not matter that they had paid millions of pounds in taxes annually, or that all four of al Fayed's children by his second wife are British. So al Fayed struck back in 1994 and revealed to the Guardian that for more than two years he had supplied Tory Members of Parliament with cash and free stays at the Ritz Hotel in exchange for political favors. Only afterward did the government officially turn down the brothers' citizenship request, without explanation--a decision al Fayed is appealing. The scandal, meanwhile, brought down two M.P.s and fueled a public outcry that contributed to the Conservatives' defeat in last spring's general election. Al Fayed seized the high ground, declaring he was "sick and tired of the hypocrisy that goes on at the highest level of government." But he failed to see that his revelations had brought to light his own culpability as a briber and that he would draw further resentment from Britain's power circles.
Al Fayed's public persona, all bluster, defiance and eccentricity, has done little to burnish his image. He is reportedly obsessive about personal security, employing a large number of bodyguards. He is litigious, and his dismissal of scores of Harrods' employees also invited litigation against him. And despite the riches he flaunts--a fleet of 64 Rolls-Royces, properties on London's Park Lane, a $32 million yacht--his record as an entrepreneur is very mixed. Last year the board of the weekly Observer rebuffed al Fayed's attempts to buy the paper, saying it was not for sale. In 1995 Rupert Murdoch shut down his Today newspaper rather than sell it to al Fayed. Bids to purchase the London News Radio station and the Daily Express have also failed. At Harrods profits rose 6% last year, but the company's debts increased to a staggering $264.3 million for the year ending January 1996. And financial sources told TIME that at least one international investment bank considered underwriting a public offering of Harrods' stock but harbored doubts because of continuing questions about al Fayed's reputation.
For his part, Emad ("Dodi") Fayed did not share his father's relentless pursuit of British approbation. From an early age he had a flair for the cosmopolitan, moving comfortably among Egyptian, French, Greek, American and British friends. He was educated at the St. Mark's school in Egypt, the Le Rosey school in Switzerland and the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. Childhood friends remember him as pleasant and well bred, and touched by loneliness, owing in part to his parents' divorce. Says Zizette Kishk, a family friend from Alexandria: "He was a very shy and quiet boy who had somewhat of a sad air about him."
Dodi's adolescence was spent shuttling among homes in Alexandria, Dubai and France. At 15 he was reportedly given his own Mayfair apartment, Rolls-Royce and chauffeur. He is said to have abandoned a fledgling career in the United Arab Emirates air force in favor of one in show business, establishing a London film-production company in the late 1970s. "He was financed by his father," Khashoggi says. With the elder Fayed's help, Dodi supplied $3 million of the $6.5 million total budget for the 1981 movie Chariots of Fire. In subsequent years he announced dozens of projects that he later dropped, and most of his investments were modest. "Dodi didn't work a day in his life," says an industry insider. "This is a guy who really enjoyed life."
He developed a reputation as a networking playboy who didn't always pay his bills. His father provided him with a reported monthly allowance of $100,000, but he allegedly owed hundreds of thousands of dollars to landlords in L.A. and New York City. Some of these accusations turned out to be ill founded, but at least one was still haunting him when he died. Kelly Fisher, the model who told tabloids in July that Dodi had pledged to marry her even as he squired Diana, accused him of writing checks to her that bounced. Yet along with these complaints, Dodi had plenty of associates willing to testify to his charm and affability. Khashoggi described his sister's son as "very quiet about life...a nice polite man, very courteous." Says a close friend: "He was with this one and that one, but he was very nice with them... Even when the story ends, he was very nice, acting like a gentleman."
Although they seemed to come from different worlds, Diana and Dodi were shaped by many of the same traumas--divorced parents, an unhappy first marriage and the death of a parent (Diana's father, Dodi's mother). The couple first met in 1986, at a polo match, but this summer, with the elder Fayed's prodding, the pair developed an intimate bond. "He was tres gentil, especially as Princess Diana would have seen him," says Dodi's friend. "All her life she was meeting very cold people. He was a big change for her." Al Fayed spokesman Michael Cole recalled speaking to Dodi in August, after news of the romance had broken. "Michael," Dodi said, "I will never, ever, have another girlfriend."
By the night of their death, the couple had decided to marry, according to some friends and relatives. Early in the summer, Mohammed al Fayed cleared out the Windsor villa in France and put 40,000 items on the auction block at Sotheby's. His family needed the extra space, al Fayed said, but some royal watchers breathlessly speculated that he was preparing a retreat for his son and the Princess of Wales. Few things would have proved more noisome to the royals than Diana, with an Egyptian husband and father-in-law, spending time in the former residence of another exile from royalty.
After the tragedy, al Fayed provided refreshments from Harrods to Britons waiting to sign Diana's condolence books. He chose not to return Dodi's body to Egypt, instead burying it at Brooklands Cemetery in Woking, an act that marked both his grief and his unrealized dreams of British belonging. There will be sympathy for him, but anger too from those who might blame the family for placing the princess in such mortal peril. Without prompting last Friday, Cole said al Fayed had "only wanted [Diana and Dodi] to be happy and to get to know each other. The Fayed family wanted nothing from the princess." The surprise was that those words needed to be said at all.