Dodi’s Father on Diana’s Death

He is (a) a father grieving for his son; (b) a world-class social climber robbed of ultimate legitimacy by a cruel fate; (c) a passionate whistleblower exposing an unimaginable conspiracy; or (d) a nut case—or maybe all of the above. Yesterday Mohamed Al Fayed finally took the witness stand in London to present his own theories about why Princess Diana and his son Dodi (the princess's then-boyfriend) died in a 1997 Paris car crash. Al Fayed, the 75-year-old owner of Harrods department store, had pushed for the opportunity to speak at a much delayed official inquest into the deaths so that he could accuse virtually the entire British royal family as well as then-prime minister Tony Blair of being in on a vast plot to do in the lovers because Diana was pregnant with Dodi's baby—a claim other witnesses have said is impossible—and they planned to marry.

The main villain, according to Al Fayed, is Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth's 86-year-old husband. "It is time to send him back to Germany, from where he comes," Al Fayed told the court. "You want to have his original name? It ends with Frankenstein." (In case your royal history is rusty, Philip's actual family is the Danish and German house of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg.) Al Fayed accused Philip of being both a racist and a Nazi who masterminded the conspiracy in his role as head of "that Dracula family"—meaning the Windsors, not the Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburgs. The goal was not only to get rid of Diana but also to clear the way for Prince Charles to marry Camilla Parker Bowles, "his crocodile wife" in Al Fayed's account. Charles and Camilla did indeed marry in 2005. "He's happy with that," Al Fayed said.

No amount of often contentious questioning by inquest attorneys as well as lawyers for interested parties, such as the police in London and the Ritz Hotel in Paris, could dissuade Al Fayed from sticking to his story. "I've been fighting for 10 years," he told reporters outside the court. "This is the moment for me to say exactly what happened to my son and Diana. With God's help, I hope the truth will come out." Whether it was truth or not, the testimony was certainly entertaining, even containing moments of high comedy.

Although Al Fayed maintained that Dodi and Diana were soulmates, friends of Diana's have testified that she was still trying to get over a long romance with another Muslim, surgeon Hasnat Khan, who they say was the real love of her life. But Al Fayed would not be deterred.

Asked one of the inquest attorneys: Can you explain why she was not murdered during the course of her very long and close relationship with Hasnat Khan?
Al Fayed: He was just a friend. Maybe she had some relationship with him, but … how can she marry somebody like that, who lives in a council flat and has no money? How can they think a guy like that can support her?

Q: She could not possibly marry a man on the income of a surgeon? Is that how you look at Diana, Mr. Al Fayed?
Al Fayed: It is impossible …

The list of participants in Al Fayed's conspiracy plot was vast, and included the British ambassador in Paris, the British and French intelligence services, the French police and ambulance services and even Diana's sister, Lady Sarah McCorquodale. He challenged any of them to sue him for libel if they disputed his claims. "I am available," he told the court. "I am talking my mind. I am talking the truth. Because I am talking the truth, they cannot do it because they would get themselves in trouble."

Before the accident, Al Fayed claimed, he had good relations with the royal family. "I am invited, I sit next to the queen," he testified. "I am sponsoring for 20 million pounds for 20 years the Royal Horse Show. Prince Philip comes to Harrods, shopping, have lunch once or twice with me. In the evening, during the horse show, I open dinner for him, and all his Nazi relations come over for dinner." But the plot put an end to all that. "When they step on my foot and murder my son, I am not accepting that," Al Fayed testified. "I will go to God, to anywhere in the sky, to the end of the world."

Room 73 of the Royal Courts of Justice isn't exactly the end of the world, but it has been a long journey to the witness stand. The inquest, which as of last month has cost British taxpayers nearly $4.5 million, is the continuation of the original coroner's inquest started in 2004. In an ordinary death the process would have begun much earlier and been much quieter, but this inquest had to wait for the conclusion of judicial investigations into the deaths by French authorities in 1997 and late 2003. Then, not long after it started, the inquest was halted while officials awaited the results of a report by the former head of London's Metropolitan Police, published in 2006. That report—like the others—dismissed all conspiracy claims and said that Diana and Dodi died because their chauffeur, Henri Paul, was drunk (tests showed a blood-alcohol level more than three times the limit under French law) and drove too fast in an effort to outrun paparazzi. (The report also said that if Diana had been wearing a seatbelt she might have survived.)

The current inquest was restarted again late last year, and jurors—who will ultimately make a ruling on the cause of the deaths—have heard from about 150 witnesses, including Diana's closest friends, members of her personal staff and even Paris ambulance workers. Al Fayed pushed for it to be held in public, but that apparently has not satisfied him.

Testimony that contradicted his own was "baloney," Al Fayed said. He testified that Diana herself told him her life was in danger: "She told me she knew Prince Philip/Prince Charles want to get rid of her." The proof was contained in a wooden box with her initials on it, Al Fayed said. He claimed that Diana's butler, Paul Burrell, and her sister, Lady Sarah, are part of a cover-up to keep that proof hidden. Henri Paul was not drunk, Al Fayed testified. "It is proved black and white that the blood taken was not Henri Paul's blood," he said. "The blood had been taken from somebody in the mortuary who had been breathing carbon monoxide by the two pathologists who refused to appear because they know that their argument is false and baloney." Other inquiries have found no evidence of tampering.

Al Fayed was particularly dismissive of evidence that Diana was not pregnant. He claimed to have had a close relationship with the princess because he has been friends with her father, the late Earl Spencer, and his wife, Diana's stepmother. He invited her to come on holiday with him and Dodi even though Dodi at the time had a girlfriend, whom Al Fayed described as a "hooker" and a "gold-digger." He said that after falling in love aboard the Al Fayed family yacht, Dodi bought Diana a ring from the jeweler Repossi. "Repossi say this ring is from the collection 'Dis-Moi Oui'," an engagement ring line, he testified. He claimed that British intelligence had been bugging the couple, and when they heard about the ring they moved in for the kill.

Just before the accident Diana called him, Al Fayed testified.

"What did she tell you?" asked an inquest attorney.
Al Fayed: She was happy. She said, "I have good news for you. I am pregnant and Dodi will declare his engagement to me on Monday."

Q: The question throughout the world in such circumstances is, "When is the baby due?" No doubt you asked; you wanted to know when your grandchild would be born, no doubt?
Al Fayed: What silly questions you ask me.

The jury will hear more silly questions in the next few weeks before reaching its own conclusions.