Born in Alexandria, he made his money working for Adnan Khashoggi. He established his own shipping company in Egypt. He arrived in Britain in 1974, adding the honourific al- to his name and briefly joining the board of Lonrho. In 1979 al-Fayed bought the Ritz Hotel in Paris and in 1985 he and his brother bought Harrods for £615m. The Harrods deal was made under the nose of Tiny Rowland, the head of Lonrho, who took the al-Fayeds to a Department of Trade inquiry. The inquiry, reporting in 1990, stated that the brothers had lied about their background and wealth. The bickering with Rowland continued when he accused them of stealing millions in jewels from his Harrods safe deposit box. Rowland died but al-Fayed settled the dispute with a payment to his widow. Al-Fayed had been arrested during the dispute and sued the Metropolitan Police for false arrest in 2002, he lost the case.
For years he has requested a UK passport, to no avail - the government has repeatedly rejected his claims and he has taken them to court. He has given millions to charities such as Great Ormond Street Hospital.
He was involved in the cash for questions scandal, having offered the Conservative MPs Neil Hamilton and Tim Smith money for asking questions in parliament. The MP Jonathan Aitken also was disgraced after an association with al-Fayed. He has a long running feud with Private Eye magazine, which, dubbing him the "Phoney Pharaoh", has often reported his alleged business malpractices and heavy-handed methods of dealing with staff at Harrods and in his other business ventures.
Al-Fayed's son, Dodi was dating Diana, Princess of Wales in her last days, and was killed in the same car-crash in Paris in 1997. He has since made repeated allegations that the deaths were not accidental, but rather the result of a wide-ranging conspiracy involving the Duke of Edinburgh, MI5 and others.