The death of a high-profile billionaire businessman. A vicious power struggle between his four adult children. Reports of drug-fuelled rows and physical altercations between the siblings and their other halves.
The details surrounding Mohamed Al-Fayed’s four warring offspring might read like a storyline straight out of Succession. But the true story of the Fayed children, their upbringing and their eclectic set of spouses is far stranger than any Sky Atlantic fiction.
Al-Fayed — the former Harrods and Fulham FC boss whose son Dodi was killed in a car crash alongside Diana, Princess of Wales — died at the age of 94 last week and his family’s statement spoke of a beloved husband, father and grandfather who died peacefully, “surrounded by his loved ones”. Just days later, however, insiders are already speaking of a “sibling power struggle” and a “Succession-style battle” for his £1.7 billion fortune, which will now need to be distributed between the four heirs he had with his second wife Heini Wathen, 68, a Finnish socialite and former model (his first marriage, to the Saudi Arabian author Samira Khashoggi, ended in 1956 after just two years).
Al-Fayed and Wathen married in 1985 and had four children together: Jasmine, 42, Karim, 39, Camilla, 38, and Omar, 35. Insiders say they were a tight-knit clan growing up. They were raised away from the limelight in the Surrey countryside, and were close to their half-brother Dodi, who was 25 years Jasmine’s elder, spending summers playing with then-princes William and Harry at Kensington Palace thanks to their father’s friendship with Diana.
“We were really happy, content with what we had,” youngest daughter Camilla, a Roedean-educated socialite and restaurateur, said in 2013. “We had a very strong family life, and we still do. Family comes first before anything else.”
All of that seemed to change during the 2020 lockdown, when reports of an explosive High Court battle between Camilla and her younger brother Omar first came to light. According to court papers, the warring siblings made competing claims over a bust-up on May 18 that year, when Omar — a “troubled” space entrepreneur once groomed as heir to the family business — claimed he was ambushed and attacked by Camilla’s husband, Syrian businessman Mohamad Esreb, on a socially-distanced meeting at their father’s country estate in Surrey (he claimed £100,000 in damages for the assault, which he alleged was orchestrated by his sister and her husband). Camilla disputed her brother’s version of events at the time, suggesting her brother was “on drugs”, which he rejects.
The following year, a judge told the pair to settle their differences in private to avoid a costly and embarrassing High Court battle. The outcome is currently unknown, but Omar has since claimed he is the victim of a “sibling power struggle”. “It’s quite a common drama where there are families with an elder leader figure who is in his winter period of life,” he told an interviewer in September 2021.
He has since claimed he is “not vying for top-dog position” and instead “seeking to encourage harmony” in what he calls “a classic trustafarian tragedy” between siblings, accusing his older sister of “middle-child syndrome” and suggesting that “some people derive great happiness from materialistic pursuits”. Camilla has said rather less on the subject in the three years since, but called the allegations “hurtful and untrue” and accused Omar of “totally embarrass[ing] [her] father’s legacy”.
Their two older siblings are yet to comment publicly on the dispute, but are both said to have shown little interest in playing a part in the family business. Jasmine is believed to be living a quiet life in Kent with her Welsh husband and their daughter after her celebrity fashion label folded, while second-oldest sibling Karim, a businessman and keen photographer who is profoundly deaf and is married to a deaf supermodel, has declared he has no strong interest in exploring family business pursuits. None one of the four Fayed siblings — most of whom have dropped the “Al” prefix from their surname in adulthood — have spoken publicly since their father’s death.
So what else do we know of the four Fayed children and what exactly was it that turned that sibling relationship so sour?
In a nutshell: a shy former fashion brand founder who is married to a Welsh heavy-metal rocker
Partner: Noah Johnson, a Welsh boxing star, world disco dancing champion and heavy-metal rocker
Children: Delilah, 17
Jasmine was 17 when her brother Dodi was killed in a car accident in Paris with Diana — the same age as her now-daughter, Delilah. She has never spoken about Dodi’s death publicly.
In fact, the only time Al-Fayed’s eldest daughter has ever done a public interview was in 2005, when she was just 24 and A-listers including Sienna Miller, Victoria Beckham and Rihanna were seen wearing her now-folded fashion label, Jasmine di Milo.
Critics were naturally quick to accuse the Surrey-raised Harrods heiress of nepotism when she dropped out of her degree at the London College of Fashion and Central St Martins and opened her own boutique in the Harrods fashion department in 2003. But when the label started being sold in more than 33 countries and began counting Thandie Newton, Daisy Lowe and Florence Welch as fans, the fashion world took her seriously.
When the journalist Hadley Freeman interviewed Jasmine in 2005, she snapped at the idea that nepotism had anything to do with her success. “It wasn’t anything to do with nepotism; I don’t know why people would say that,” she told Freeman. “Well, I mean, [Harrods is] my home, so I want to do something that has me in it. It’s my family.”
Jasmine was about to move into a flatshare in Kensington at the time and was notoriously media-shy. She agreed to the Freeman interview on the condition that she could provide her own photo (she presented as an 80s-style goth girl at the time) and was rarely snapped in the press, aside from being briefly glimpsed in Tatler that same year, photographed at a party for the designer Roberto Cavalli, where everyone was reportedly “particularly interested in meeting her”.
Her company name, Jasmine di Milo, is a combination of her own name with that of the famous statue of Venus, the Roman goddess of love. Milo was also the nickname of her younger sister, Camilla, Jasmine noted in 2005.
The label folded in 2010 after seven years of operating, with Jasmine saying she planned to “pursue other interests”. She has kept a low profile ever since but is believed to be married to the Welsh boxing star and heavy-metal rocker Noah Johnson, with whom she has a daughter, Delilah. According to an interview with Johnson, the couple were living in Sevenoaks, Kent as recently as 2013.
In a nutshell: a deaf businessman and photographer who is married to a deaf Brazilian supermodel
Home: London, exact location unknown
Partner: Brenda Costa, a deaf Brazilian supermodel and businesswoman
Children: Antonia, 13, and Gabriel, 8
Al-Fayed’s second-oldest child Karim prefers to keep a low-profile like his older sister. He is profoundly deaf, a result of contracting meningitis when he was a toddler, and was sent to board at the Mary Hare grammar school for deaf children in Newbury, Berkshire, from the age of 11.
Leaving the family was difficult and Karim has since reflected on how he had to work hard on his self-confidence growing up. “The hardest thing was socialising, making new friends,” he once said in a rare interview. “At home, I was the same as everyone else, and it was somewhere safe but when I went away, it was definitely a challenge. At that point, in all my life I hadn’t spent more than a week apart from my parents. It was hard to adapt, to build a new life. But slowly things came together, and the school gave me some very valuable skills.”
Karim was just 13 when his older half-brother Dodi died. “I wasn’t really aware of what was going on [with Dodi and Diana],” he said in 2009. “I mean, Dodi was busy, and I was at school. We both had our own lives. Everyone has their own theories, even today... But [Dodi] was a good brother. He loved me, he looked after me. I just didn’t grow up with him.”
Despite being the wealthy, six-foot-something heir of a billionaire businessman, he was never the type to hang out at celebrity parties in his teens or twenties. When the Evening Standard interviewed him back in 2009, he presented as a shy, rather serious 25-year-old who could barely name a fashionable London nightclub.
He acknowledged it was a tough balancing act, being a Fayed. “It’s difficult, yes,” he said. “It has certainly opened doors for me. But you have to be very careful who you mix with. I have always tried to treat people exactly the same regardless of their status in life but I have come across those who want to know me just because they think I have money.”
In 2009, he set up the Karim Fayed Hearing Centre, a one-stop clinic for people with mild hearing loss, which offers free tests, makes bespoke hearing aids and counts young clubbers, DJs, builders and airport workers among its clients. He told the Evening Standard at the time that half of the profits from the company would go to his alma mater, the Mary Hare School.
The following year, the Independent reported that he had launched a photography exhibition in London. He is said to be a keen landscape photographer and has said he prefers to go off the beaten track when travelling, as opposed to frequenting yachts in St Tropez.
He is married to Brenda Costa, a deaf supermodel, businesswoman and former Olympic swimmer from Brazil who runs a modelling agency promoting diversity and inclusion in the fashion industry. They are understood to live in London with their two children, Antonia and Gabriel, and were photographed at Kate Moss’ jewellery show at Paris Fashion Week last year.
In a nutshell: a “hard-nosed” vegan socialite-turned-clean-eating-restauranteur who lives on a farm in Kent with her Syrian businessman husband and two children
Partner: Mohamad Esreb, a Syrian businessman
Children: Luna, 13, and Numair, 10
In many ways, Camilla’s descriptions of her upbringing read like your classic youngest daughter looking to rebel: constant attempts to run away and escape to the pub while boarding at the exclusive all-girls boarding school Roedean in Brighton; leaving school at 16; a short stint at drama school before a first job on the shop floor at Harrods after her father persuaded her not to go to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and follow in the footsteps of her mother.
She once joked that she attended the “University of Harrods”, where she worked under her mother’s maiden name to minimise attention, and admits the job ignited her love of fashion. She went on to work for British Vogue and later as an assistant to Anna Wintour in New York, before making her name in 2011 when she bought Issa, the fashion brand that dressed Kate Middleton for her engagement pictures.
The following year, in 2012, she married the Syrian property tycoon Mohamad Esreb, who, she met in a London nightclub aged 18, in a registry office with no family members present.
Unlike her sister, Camilla did not seem to mind the attention that came with her heiress status. She was soon pictured brushing shoulders alongside the likes of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Julien Macdonald, and regularly frequented newspapers’ diary and interview pages. Her inner circle continues to include the likes of designer Stella McCartney and stylist Elizabeth Saltzman.
In 2016, she sold Issa and quickly began a new chapter as a clean-eating guru, opening the now-notorious vegan restaurant Farmacy in Notting Hill after reportedly struggling to find anywhere to eat out where sustainable farming and supply chains were a top priority (she turned vegetarian after the birth of her daughter Luna). Her younger brother Omar, also a vegan, joined as a founding director of the company and the restaurant quickly gained a set of A-list fans from the actor Woody Harrelson to Gwyneth Paltrow, whose wellness company Goop hired Camilla to cater for its London events.
Around the same time, Camilla, her husband and their children Luna and Numair moved from a multi-million-pound apartment in London’s Park Lane to a sprawling farm in Kent, a fitting backdrop for Camilla’s new clean-living lifestyle and just round the corner from her father’s 220-acre estate in Oxted, Surrey.
That luxe Surrey lifestyle wasn’t the only thing Camilla was believed to share with her father before his death. According to insiders, she shares Al-Fayed’s “hard-nosed” business attitude and strong work ethic (much of her twenties was spent in her father’s Harrods office “because that was where one found him”).
Her first major family fallout is believed to have been with Omar in 2017, when he left the board of Farmacy after a year, apparently unwillingly. Neither party spoke publicly about it at the time, but Omar has long spoken of tensions with his brother-in-law, Camilla’s husband Esreb. “It seems his influence upon Camilla and in my family has not necessarily been a favourable one,” Omar said in 2021. “Before they were together, my sister and I were very close. Of course, it’s sad and unfortunate.”
That tension bubbled up publicly three years later, during the 2020 lockdown, when Omar was using the gym at his father’s Surrey estate and he, his mother and Camilla reportedly got into an argument, resulting in a “physical altercation” between Omar and Esreb.
An extraordinary series of claims and counter-claims were made by both parties in the High Court later that year, Omar claiming £100,000 in damages for an assault he alleged was orchestrated by Camilla and her husband Esreb. Camilla denied this, claiming that Omar was a heavy user of illegal drugs.
Camilla has not spoken publicly since the feud, aside from telling the Mail on Sunday that Omar’s behaviour was an embarrassment to the family, but has spent this year continuing to attend star-studded public events, from Fashion Trust awards ceremonies with Emma Weymouth, Marchioness of Bath, to Paris Fashion Week with the likes of Princess Alexandra of Hanover and Mary McCartney.
She is listed as a trustee of ACF Sevenoaks, a Kent charity that provides education to children whose mainstream schooling has broken down, and she remains a director at Farmacy. Latest accounts show the company’s debts had reached nearly £4.8 million by March last year.
In a nutshell: a “troubled” space entrepreneur who was groomed as the heir to the Fayed empire and now runs a venture exploring the eco-friendly colonisation of the moon
Home: Primrose Hill
Partner: Anastasia Parker, a classical pianist
Children: Albert, 6
A colourful and troubled upbringing. A musician partner. A new social media platform called EarthX and a second company aiming to facilitate humanity’s settlement of other planets.
If elements of Omar Fayed’s CV sound curiously like that of Elon Musk’s, it’s not a coincidence. Asked whether he was Britain’s answer to the SpaceX founder by Tatler last year, the former Harrods owner’s youngest son admitted he’d met Musk in California a few years previously and admired the X (formerly Twitter) owner’s “boldness” and “pioneering pathway”.
Perhaps Omar’s need to forge his own pathway like Musk is no surprise, given his upbringing. He was just 10 when his brother Dodi died in that famous car accident, he quit school at 16 and was thrust into the family business in 2006 after his brother Dodi’s death, becoming a director of Harrods at the age of just 19.
He was expected to take over as chairman but resigned three years later in 2009, citing concerns for the future of the business and fears that the Knightsbridge department store was not the “ethical workplace” he wished it to be. It was sold to the Qatari royal family for a reported £1.5 billion a year later.
Billionaire ex-Harrods owner Mohamed Fayed's son Omar is 'punched in the face by his brother-in-law' at the family home as family bust-up heads to the High Courthttps://t.co/gL1a2KPuDq pic.twitter.com/Z5DpAbEIaJ
— Everyday News (@yournewsdaily) June 27, 2020
Since breaking free of what he calls that “gilded prison” of Harrods, Omar has set out to found his own workplace with a rather more ethical-sounding mission: saving the planet, or at least making it a better place to live in.
His new social media platform, EarthX, has been in the works for over a decade and reportedly uses a 3D globe to focus a person’s mind on their place on the planet when they make a post, rather than mindlessly scrolling. He has also launched a Swiss-based company called Earth Space Technical Ecosystem Enterprises – or ESTEE – with the aim of facilitating humanity’s settlement of other planets, though Omar insists he’s not fond of space “tourism” like Musk.
“I’d love to go to space but I’m happy on Earth,” he told Tatler last year, speaking about his passion for cars and motorbikes and the joy of teaching his son, Albert, to play the piano. “I feel the resources used for tourism in space could be better used elsewhere.”
Omar credits a particular moment in his teens for some of his particularly out-there business decisions. “It was nothing short of terrifying, a horrific experience – my friend and I thought we had died,” he has said of a life-altering trip on “an unholy amount of magic mushrooms”. “But it was a positive accident in retrospect. My whole brain was reset to ground zero and I had a moment where I realised how little I actually knew about what was going on.”
— Tatler (@Tatlermagazine) November 17, 2022
The 35-year-old says his life changed after that moment. He dabbled in various spheres, from studying philosophy, religion and the environment to a stint trading in the city. After joining and subsequently leaving Harrods, he attempted several ventures from producing documentaries on psychedelics for medical purposes to co-founding a CBD company.
In 2016, he joined his older sister Camilla as a founding director of her vegan restaurant, Farmacy, and the two were understood to be close until that point. Exactly what caused him to leave the company just a year later is not known — was it the influence of Camilla’s husband, Esreb, on their sibling relationship? Or something else?
What is known is what happened three years later, when the pair ended up in the High Court after their 2020 lockdown spat. Camilla has since claimed her brother plays no part in the family business because of his unreliable behaviour, but Omar has disputed this, claiming in recent years to have roles running the family’s Scottish estate and its aviation company.
Various public accusations have been thrown since then, particularly from Omar, who sat down for a tell-all interview with Tatler in January 2020, likely in a bid to put an end to any speculation around comments by family friends that he was “troubled and vulnerable” at the time of the lockdown bust-up.
At the time, he told Tatler he hoped for reconciliation with his sister (“I don’t want this to turn into some sort of stereotypical trustafarian tragedy”) and that “there [was] no time for fighting”: he has businesses to run, a son raise, a planet to save.
That was when his father’s £1.7bn fortune was not at stake, however. If the next chapter of the Fayed story is to be anything even close to that of Roy’s in Succession, the war between Omar and his three siblings could be only just beginning.