Khalid Abdalla, the actor who portrays Dodi Fayed in season five of Netflix’s royal drama The Crown, has said the Egyptian film producer has “never really been mourned because he’s never really been known”.
Dodi was the son of billionaire and former Harrods owner Mohamed al-Fayed, and he was in a relationship with Princess Diana when they both died in a car crash in Paris in 1997.
Speaking about how little is known about Dodi, who only lived to the age of 42, Abdalla told The Independent: “Dodi’s name has been on people’s lips for 25 years and yet nobody really knows anything about him. When they actually ask themselves, ‘What do I know?’ They might get as far as they know who his father was, and they’ll have the word ‘playboy’, and that’s about it.”
He said: “You ask yourself the question, ‘Wait, how come I’ve known his nickname for 25 years but I know nothing about him? And what does that say culturally?’”
Abdalla added that there is “a big wound that surrounds the fact that Dodi’s never really been mourned because he’s never really been known, and then there’s the wound that exists around Diana’s death, and his death with her”.
On what he’s learned about Dodi, who was an executive producer on 1981 Oscar winner Chariots of Fire, Abdalla said: “His parents divorced when he was three and he wasn’t allowed to see his mother for much of his life. He went to boarding schools very early on, and had a complicated relationship with his father, who wanted him to be an heir to something he didn’t want to be heir to, in some senses.
“He’s someone who, surprise surprise, with this dysfunctional background, ended up not being very good at holding down longterm relationships. And when you’re rich and not very good at holding down longterm relationships, you get labelled a playboy.”
Abdalla said that, despite this reputation, Dodi “wasn’t holding big parties and seducing people”, but he was actually “gentle and shy and awkward”.
He said that the show’s writer, Peter Morgan, “had a choice: either present Mohamed and Dodi as these token characters who pass by and we don’t know anything about, or treat him with the fullness and respect he does with the royal family”.
Abdalla continued: “I still have people come up to me and ask me if he’s still alive, and that tells you a lot about how his death has been presented in culture over the past 25 years. It’s almost as if he didn’t exist, and the fact I’m there as part of telling that story in its fullness, I think as a cultural intervention on behalf of Peter Morgan and The Crown, that’s immense. It means a lot to people of my background, and by extension people of other backgrounds.”
The actor said that portraying Dodi’s relationship with Diana – which will come in season six – feels like a “huge responsibility” and is a “daunting” prospect.
“It’s been the honour of my life,” he said.
The Crown season five arrives on Netflix on 9 November.