As far as I know, my source is still in his employ several years on, which shows that working for Al Fayed is not always as impossible as it is made out to be. Yet there is no denying that the man has been ‘burning’ through his senior management at a frightening pace. About 15 executives have quit Harrods in the past couple of years, including three managing directors. Each departure stokes fresh rumours about Harrods’ finances.
Harrods has undoubtedly been hit hard by the drop in American tourists – its staple fodder – and its owner, too, has certainly been feeling the pinch.
Fulham Football Club is an expensive hobby. Yet Al Fayed has steadfastly stuck to his line that he has the money to carry him through. The recent loss of his favourable tax agreement with the Inland Revenue is probably more of an inconvenience than anything else.
Many people have probably forgotten just why Al Fayed is so attached to Harrods. In the mid-1980s, he famously wrested control of the store from Tiny Rowland of Lonrho fame, triggering a lasting feud between the two men. Rowland made scathing allegations about Al Fayed’s purported wealth, dubbing him ‘the hero from zero’. Al Fayed shrugged off the criticism as sour grapes.
A memorable moment in the feud came when the Egyptian hung a large stuffed shark named ‘Tiny’ in the Harrods food hall. This allowed him to proclaim with a straight face: ‘I finally got to stuff Tiny’.
Sell Harrods? I wouldn’t count on it.
- Jon Ashworth is business features editor at The Times