When feisty Egyptian retail mogul Mohamed Al-Fayed announced earlier this week that he sold his prized luxury store Harrods to the Qatari royal family for $2 billion, it marked his official entry to the who’s-who list of ten-digit fortunes.
Yes, the headline here is not that what al-Fayed did yesterday was crazy- in fact it may be the sanest thing he’s ever done- but that his reported $1.32 billion cut now makes him a certified billionaire. And given his colorful track record, rife with (alleged) bribery, vicious feuds and bizarre conspiracy theories he has a strong case for now being the world’s craziest.
And that’s a dense field. Hitherto May 10’s announcement, the distinction probably belonged to self-proclaimed “#1 King of All Fun” generic-drug kingpin Stewart Rahr, though even he had stiff competition from an increasingly-senile Sumner Redstone and the irrepressible Mark Cuban.
Why does Al Fayed trump them all? Many reasons, but these three loom largest:
1. His Faux-Paranoia
Most billionaires are a little cagey- and for very good reason. As any poor soul who’s had the misfortune of winning the lottery can tell you, public wealth is a big burden: an infringement on you and your family’s security, privacy and a source of unmanageable junk mail. But Al Fayed’s raging paranoia is legendary and also inauthentic. As recounted in Maureen Orth’s engrossing 1995 expose in Vanity Fair:
Fayed has a personal security staff of 38-two teams that alternate, one week on, one week off, at his residence at 60 Park Lane, at his country house in Oxted, where his family lives, and at his castle in Scotland. His “close-protection team” consists of 8 or 10. One assumes that the millions of dollars this security costs and the level of his apparent paranoia, which extends to wearing only clip-on ties so that he cannot be strangled, must mean that Fayed’s life is under constant threat. Not so, according to a half-dozen former guards I interviewed, who say that his security is mainly for show.
2. His Genuine Paranoia
Not a charmingly-eccentric brand of neuroticism, mind you- but a rather repellant fear of anything “beneath” him. Again, as reported by Orth back in 1995:
Whenever Fayed suffers a spate of bad publicity, the press seems to be flooded with stories and pictures of him helping needy children. In fiscal 1994, Fayed had House of Fraser donate £800.000 ($1.2 million) to charity. Yet Fayed’s fear of germs is such, say ex-employees, that he can, barely stand to touch the children who get him so much positive press. He does not allow his own children to attend the annual Harrods Christmas party, they say, for fear of contamination, and he keeps Wet-wipes in his pockets so that after shaking every little hand he can wipe his own.
3. He’s completely delusional
Evidence? It’s almost too plentiful to list here but it includes a) a conviction that the British government conspired to kill Princess Diana and his son Dodi Fayed in the 1997 car crash, b) the fact that in order to convince the government that he had the cash to buy Harrods back in 1984, he drafted a completely-fabricated press release claiming (among other things) that he hailed from an “old, established Egyptian family” of industrialists and was educated in British schools. And c) his defamation lawsuit against Vanity Fair for their critical profile was summarily dismissed.
I will grant Al Fayed this- he does win “Best Appearance by a Billionaire on Da Ali G Show.” No small feat, especially for a man who is paranoid, delusional and (one would think) completely lacking a sense of humor: