Last Thursday, the world commemorated two decades since Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed’s tragic deaths. Lady Di and the son of Egyptian billionaire Mohamed Al-Fayed died in a car crash in Paris on the 31st of August 1997. Now, for the first time ever, the man who knew Dodi the best has stepped forward to speak about his friend.
Andrew Wainrib, Dodi Fayed’s best friend, told DailyMail.com he does not want his late friend to become a “footnote in history” and be remembered solely as Diana’s lover – an aloof millionaire’s son who died at her side – but for the ‘wonderful’ man he was.
Last week, hundreds of TV specials, newspaper articles and magazine pull-outs have been dedicated to the life and death of the Princess who still remains an inspiration worldwide. But those close to Diana’s then boyfriend Dodi Fayed – the man who died next to her in a Paris tunnel – fear the film producer has once again been forgotten in the renewed outpouring of grief for ‘The People’s Princess’.
Diana and Fayed died in Paris in the early hours of August 31, 1997 when the Mercedes they were traveling in hit a concrete pillar in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel, aged 36 and 42 respectively. At the time, they were being pursued by the paparazzi after leaving the Ritz Hotel and driver Henri Paul, who was also killed, was drunk and driving at high speed. Dodi’s father Mohamed has claimed that the couple were executed by MI6 agents. Fayed’s former spokesman, Michael Cole, has claimed that the couple had become engaged before their deaths.
Now film and TV director Wainrib, 62, has stated his hope that his friend Dodi will also be a fixture in people’s remembrance.
“It was a terrible tragedy but my biggest concern at the time, and I still feel this way 20 years later, I’m concerned that my friend shouldn’t be a footnote to history, he shouldn’t be forgotten,” the serial entrepreneur said.
“It was all about Diana then and it will be all about Diana once again.”
Dodi Fayed’s best friend Andrew Wainrib told DailyMail.com he does not want his late friend to become a ‘footnote’ in history
“Dodi will be forever remembered simply as Princess Di’s lover – an aloof millionaire’s son who died at her side – rather than celebrated as the ‘wonderful’ man his close friends and family remember,” Andrew says
Pictured together in Vail, Colorado (1987): Andrew had worked for Dodi throughout the late 80s as a film developer and said ‘he got to know the man inside out’
Speaking for the first time in two decades about the tragedy from his home in Thousand Oaks, California, Wainrib says Dodi was a generous, kind-hearted man loved by those close to him. The Alexandria-born was a successful Hollywood film producer at the time of his death. He had an Oscar-winning movie to his name and a promising career in Hollywood ahead of him.
“We were always very close friends, we spent a lot of time together in the 80s, I went on to work closely with him and got to know the man inside out,” Andrew said of the billionaire who would open up about his past and upbringing.
Dodi and Diana made headlines in the summer of 1997 after they were spotted vacationing in St. Tropez, France
The two were tragically killed when the Mercedes they were traveling in hit a concrete pillar in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris on August 31, 1997
Growing up, Dodi divided his time between family homes in Egypt and France and told Andrew his family’s immense wealth meant he became used to a gilded life of privilege and was raised in celebrity circles.
He attended the exclusive Le Rosey school in Switzerland and did a short stint at Sandhurst, the British military academy for young men seeking social status.
According to Andrew, Dodi – who was shorter than most his classmates – was ‘mercilessly picked on’ during his time at both schools over his background.
“He was bullied almost every day because he was a short Arab, it was a thing and it was always two on one, three on one,” the movie producer explained.
“But Dodi couldn’t fight, he told me, ‘money was my fighting, money was my kung-fu'”.
Wainrib was asked to be Dodi’s best man when he married Susanne Gregard on New Year’s Day in 1987
Dodi’s marriage with the actress and model lasted less than eight months
“To him getting picked on as a kid and getting his a** kicked was his life-changing event, he decided it wasn’t going to happen again. He’d heard a few derogatory names, taken a few punches, and as soon as he found out how he could control the universe, he jumped on it. He took the licks and learned how to win,” Andrew says of how Fayed’s childhood experience might have shaped him.
After completing his education Dodi worked briefly as an attaché in the United Arab Emirates Embassy in London before joining the family business.
The immense wealth of his father Mohammed Al-Fayed who owned the famed Harrods department store in London and the Ritz in Paris meant Dodi could enjoy homes in New York, London, Paris, Los Angeles and Switzerland, fast cars and beautiful women. He liked to hang out with celebrities and quickly garnered a reputation as a millionaire playboy.
Although with an estimated monthly allowance of $100,000, Dodi was reportedly desperate for his own success outside his father’s shadow. He found it difficult to shake his reputation of being a slacker, however – the privileged son of a multi-millionaire who lacked the drive and ruthlessness to make it on his own – despite his charm and good nature.
But Wainrib, who was Fayed’s accomplice in his endeavors in the world of film claims that image simply doesn’t do his friend justice. He says Dodi did have the drive for success in abundance, as proven by his Academy Award film as a film producer which is still largely overlooked today.
Fayed founded the production company Allied Stars that helped to finance six Hollywood films, including Chariots of Fire, which won an Academy Award for best picture in 1981. He also produced Hook starring Dustin Hoffman, and in The Scarlet Letter with Demi Moore, as well as helping finance ‘Breaking Glass’ in 1980, and ‘F/X’ in 1986 followed by ‘F/X2 — The Deadly Art of Illusion’ in 1991.
A newspaper clipping kept by Andrew Wainrib reporting on the Dodi Fayed and Suzanne Gregard 1987 New Year’s Day wedding in Vail, Colorado and a balloon-filled room where the ceremony took place
“Everyone was pitching something to Dodi all the time, whether it was a movie or something they wanted him to buy.
“One of my favorite stories is some charter airplane company thought Dodi could be a potential buyer for one of these converted 727 private planes with giant master bedrooms and gold plated everything.
“Whenever Dodi would charter a jet he would bring big-names at the time; celebrity friends like Melanie Griffith, Tony Curtis, Cheryl Tiegs. And I remember Tiegs and her dog were on this particular coast-to-coast flight.
“The way it worked was the charter company had a salesman on the plane and they would try to close the deal about halfway through the trip.
“So Dodi is out cold in one of the sumptuous, beautiful, gilded bedrooms. I’m like, ‘dude there is a guy who has to talk to you now about the plane.’
Dodi half-asleep tells Andrew, “you have to tell him you’re the guy and he has to talk to you.”
Andrew scoffs as he recalls: “I played this role so many times. During meetings with Dodi I’d always think of that old baseball adage, ‘here comes the pitch’.
Knowing very well that Dodi had no interest in buying the extravagant converted aircraft Andrew played along.
“I had to nod, ask questions and look interested throughout the remaining three-hour long sales pitch,” he said.
The son of an Egyptian business magnate, Dodi was an extremely generous man, picking up ‘every tab’ for anyone who ate or drank with him, according to Andrew.
“To Dodi it was a show. It was his brand, he wanted people to know he was the guy that made things happen,” Andrew says.
Andrew recalls how the playboy could walk into any nightclub in New York or Los Angeles 15 minutes before closing time and convince them to stay open just for him and his friends who would drink champagne and eat caviar and Dodi would pick up the $5,000 tab.
“It was almost like he was programmed to control the group he was in,” Andrew says.
“I remember one time we were out in New Jersey with friends and we went to this restaurant at a turkey farm in the countryside. Well they didn’t take credit cards, only cash.
“We had cash in our pockets Dodi didn’t, so the look on his face when he couldn’t pick up the check, he couldn’t manipulate the moment. He was visibly frustrated.”
Andrew says his friend’s ‘big character’ was partly based on Tony Montana, the powerful lead character of the 1983 Brian De Palma film Scarface.
“He had a fascination with Scarface and it was one of his favorite movies,” Andrew explains.
“He even used Tony Montana as an alias when he would check in to various hotels.
“He’d say, ‘I’m at the Beverly Hills Hotel and I’m registered under Tony Montana,’ and I would tell him ‘argh that is so cheesy’.”
According to Andrew, Fayed was a man of many acquaintances and few friends, but those he did allow to become close to him he treated with great affection.
Fayed love Brian De Palma’s Scarface and used the name Tony Montana as an alias in various hotels
Andrew recalls how Fayed was very image savvy and media conscious. The 62-year-old believes the experience in growing up as the son of a billionaire gave Dodi an understanding of what Diana might have experienced living in the public eye.
“He had a lot of worldly pressures on him being the son of a very powerful and influential business man, but he was also a man of good spirits and he was a generous man.
“He liked to play it cool, he liked to be the mysterious character, there was definitely a certain allure to that.”
Wainrib remembers the busy playboy wasn’t easy to get hold of in his final months but he received a call asking him to Thanksgiving in Aspen, Colorado.
Andrew declined, joking with Dodi: “I have to work for a living, so I will be staying in LA and won’t be going to Aspen with your list of celebrity friends.” Fayed was killed less than nine months later.
Andrew said he first found out about the relationship with Princess Diana from newspaper and magazine clippings that were sent to him from around the world and recalls thinking that Diana was ‘looking for a knight in shining armor’ and that his friend would step into that role well.
At the time Andrew was living in a small private coastal community in Malibu, California and it wasn’t long before news reporters started knocking on his door to find out more about his rich friend. They were interested in Dodi and his best-man’s exploits while traveling around the world on private planes, visiting ski lodges, and sunning themselves on yachts in the late 80s.
Andrew says Fayed was a powerful and influential business man, but also a man of good spirits and he was a generous man
After the relationship went public, Andrew appeared on GMTV, a breakfast television show in England, and told the presenters to ‘leave him (Dodi) alone, that’s his job.’
“Dodi is supposed to date princesses and movie stars, maybe I need to send you a brochure, but that’s the deal, that’s his job,” he said at the time.
Now he says: “It was all very sudden, because he started dating her and some of my good friends would say ‘hey you see what Dodi’s up to?’ and try to rib me about it. I said wow Dodi is a genius, I’m sure he’s getting more press than ever and a lot of heat.”
In 1997 Andrew was no longer working with Dodi but was admiring his showmanship from across the ocean. In July that year, Fayed and Diana began dating and rumors about the relationship were confirmed when the pair were photographed together while on Dodi’s luxury yacht on the French Riviera. The famous photograph that showed the pair embracing stunned the world and confirmed Lady Di had found love again.
Andrew remembers ribbing his best friend over the relationship.
“Dodi and I would exchange voice messages a lot and we sure would rib one another,” he says.
“Dodi’s father had bought him a house about 600 yards down the beach from me in Malibu and I left Dodi a message saying ‘when you’re in town you know that Diana’s going to get here and come up to me on the beach and ask ‘Uhhh what happened to your dog?'” – Andrew has a three-legged pooch called Elvis who has a weak bladder.
“And I’m going to say he lost his leg from a landmine, and it’s over for you and it’s all about me. She’d only have love for me and Elvis,” he quipped referencing Diana’s famous charity work to ban landmines.
“Dodi then left me a message telling me he saw me on TV and I’m aging and it’s not looking good,” Fayed returned the joke.
Andrew learned of his friend and Diana’s death while on the same beach walking his dog that fateful last day of August 1997.
“I could hear my answer machine go off. It was my mother’s voice, so I saunter back into the house and play the message over, it said: ‘Turn on CNN. Dodi is dead and Diana…’
“I’m like ‘What the f**k’ So I turn on the television.”
Andrew describes himself as being ‘completely stupefied’ and recalls how he spent the next ten hours glued to his television; twenty years later he is still in disbelief over the deaths.
“How can two of the most elite humans on the planet, that should have the least likelihood of exposure to danger, have their lives unceremoniously snuffed out by the most pedestrian of acts – a road accident.”
CCTV footage of from The Ritz in Paris showing Dodi and Diana just hours before the accident
Diana, Dodi Fayed, and driver Henri Paul perished on the 31st of August 1997
Tributes to Princess Diana and Al-Fayed at Harrods in 1997
Andrew has also given his thoughts on what might have been going on in the Mercedes on that faithful night twenty summers ago.
“Instinctively, I would think that he’s not all worked up over it, he’s just sitting in the back telling the driver to lose the paparazzi.
“He’s maybe had a little to drink, a delicious dinner and they want to get to their villa and there’s all this paparazzi and he’s yelling at the guy ‘go faster’.
“I can just picture him, cool clothes in the back of the car telling the driver pick it up because he wanted to have an air of control, as well as showing that he was the boss to Diana.
“She was royalty and I’m sure that was in his mind.
“Not only was he very conscious of that but he assumed a big character to cope with it. That was the message that he was always having to send.
“And the driver, who they say was under the influence, has the boss in the back telling him to kick ass so he puts the hammer down. He makes a mistake and everybody dies.”
Wainrib added that Fayed was used to be surrounded by security and often ordered limousine drivers around.
“I’d been out with Dodi on the town just the two of us,” he said.
“There was always a bodyguard and a driver. He had a service here in the US and he had all his dad’s guys when he was in London.
“Anywhere he went he always had extra security whether he needed it or not, he was used to that world.”
Still, Andrew remains dumbfounded by the crash.
“They were a couple that should’ve been buffered from this, to think that this could come down to a drunk driving accident is just about the most tragic thing I can possibly think of. These two people should have been protected.”
He added: “Dodi stepped into that hornet’s nest and to whatever degree he cultivated the relationship with Diana, or was truly committed or whatever, it shouldn’t have been a death penalty for him.”
The TV producer believes he can talk with a ‘voice of authority’ about his friend’s life as he believes very few people knew him as he did.
“I would see Dodi at his most vulnerable,” he explains.
“I studied his behavior because we were in very close quarters for quite some time. So I would know how he would react to certain situations, especially with women he was dating and fraternizing with.
“I think that he liked to punch above his weight class if it meant having some leverage on his dad. His dad had all the leverage, his father pulled all the strings.”
Wainrib believes his friendship with Fayed would have stood the test of time were it not for Dodi’s premature death. The Egypt-born saw Andrew’s potential early on and gifted him his first camera, which led to a documentary film career and an award-winning short documentary animation in 2009, Cohen on the Bridge.