It is with a heavy heart that Grazia Daily reports on the end of an era in retail eccentricity. It was announced that Mohamed Al Fayed has decided to hand in his keys to Harrods after a quarter of a century as London’s most brilliantly bonkers shopkeeper.
For every Sir Stuart "M&S" Rose, with his understated success and sensible shoes, there is a Mohamed Al Fayed; a passionate (and, if rumours are to be believed, Ugg-boot wearing) retail tycoon who has transformed Harrods from a nice upmarket department store into something more utterly decadent and fabulously demented than a Lady Gaga video.
Al Fayed is in many ways the Willy Wonka of retail – he might not have had a river of chocolate or an army of Oopma Loompa’s (though there were some fairly little orange women on the cosmetics counter last time we popped in) but he is a man renowned for his extravagant taste and love of glamour. So, as a salute to Uncle Mo’, Grazia Daily brings you our Harrods top five from the past 25 years.
1. The Egyptian staircase. Just, like, the whole thing. From the escalator lined with Sphinx’s with Al Fayed’s face, to the gold-tastic memorial shrine to Dodi and Diana at the bottom. Love it or hate it (and we’re not sure which side we fall on) there is absolutely nothing like it.
2. The celebs. Mohamed Al Fayed totally got the power of celebrities before Philip Green had even dreamed of asking Mosskins to join him on the good shop Topshop. From Victoria Beckham to Sophia Loren, Al Fayed was aware that star power could translate into profit for his business, and was one of the first retailers to employ the celeb-association trick. In fact, for Grazia Daily’s number one celebrity stunt, we cast our eyes towards Dame Katie Price. To celebrate the release of her epoch-defining novel ‘Crystal’, la Price, who was about nineteen months pregnant and wearing a worse wig than Jackie Stallone's arrives in a giant crystal drawn by shirtless men. A CRYSTAL. Geddit?! We love.
3. The walkabouts. Al Fayed spends two hours every day walking round the Harrods shop floor, talking to staff and customers, pinching macaroons from the Ladurée cafe and engaging people in chat. On one occasion he is rumoured to have offered serious news-type Emily Maitlis a Smint telling her it was Viagra and declaring that they should elope together. Ooh, Mohamed!
4. The mausoleum. One of the main reasons Al Fayed's sale of Harrods comes as such a big surprise is that he had previously insisted he wanted to be embalmed and his body placed in a mausoleum in the building when he died. It might have been an exaggeration, a bit like when Grazia Daily dreams of a Jazz funeral through the streets of London, but as with all things from Mohamed it was entirely possible he was totally serious.
5. The stunts. Never one to shy away from publicity, Mr Al Fayed was good at getting virtually anything into the papers with a seemingly insane publicity stunt. In September 2007, a live Egyptian cobra was hired to guard a pair of shoes by Rene Caovilla (no, we’ve never hard of him either, but the story still made the papers. See?). The shoes, which were, of course, encrusted with £62,000 of diamonds and rubies, sold on their first day on sale.
Now obviously, this is not the end of Harrods - no way missy - but Grazia Daily can’t help but mourn the potential end of the Egyptian escalator and a colourful era in Harrods history. However, we probably shouldn’t feel too downhearted at the loss of this great shopping eccentric, for just a brief look at the bio of the new owner, the Qatari emir (three wives, 27 children) and his plans to 'upgrade' the store, tells us that Harrods is likely to hold its place as Britain’s most bonkers corner shop.
- Alex Butt