The party in the private bungalow at Los Angeles’ famous Beverly Hills Hotel was in full swing. In one corner stood Bond girl Britt Ekland sipping champagne.
In the other, a household name A-list actor was ‘high as a kite’, surrounded by giggling starlets. As the champagne corks popped, one man sat quietly watching the scene.
The party would continue for three days – with guests coming and going at all times of the day and night – but Dodi Fayed did not sleep a wink.
This was one of his infamous ‘3Cs’ parties – champagne, cocaine and caviar – and Dodi stayed up the entire time snorting ‘industrial quantities’ of cocaine in full view of his guests.
As the sixth and final season of The Crown prepares to release the last part of the story on Netflix from Thursday, one man watched the first four episodes with a growing sense of incredulity.
Diana walking with Dodi Fayed, pictured walking on a pontoon in the French Riviera resort of St. Tropez on Augus,t 22, 1997
Dodi’s fiancee Kelly Fisher who says Diana was unaware he would spend the day with her, then sleep with Kelly at night
While the series’ opening episodes focused on Dodi’s summer fling with Princess Diana and the couple’s death in a Paris car crash in August 1997, it left out the one thing all Dodi’s close friends knew… his ‘rampaging’ cocaine addiction.
Paul Cohen met Dodi in 1980, the year Dodi arrived in Hollywood as ‘executive producer’ of the Oscar-winning film Chariots Of Fire.
The Goldcrest movie had been funded by his billionaire Egyptian father Mohamed Al Fayed as a way to give his wayward son a ‘job’, but Dodi had no interest in making films.
London-born Cohen, a Hollywood talent manager who was introduced to Dodi via his long-time client Ekland, said: ‘Britt knew Dodi from London. When Dodi came to LA she said, ‘You have to meet this friend of mine’.
‘Dodi had no interest in making Chariots Of Fire. The great love of his life wasn’t women or film. It was cocaine. People think of Dodi as a great seducer of women because he was photographed with gorgeous actresses such as Brooke Shields and Winona Ryder and, of course, because of his relationship with Diana. But he was weirdly non-sexual.
‘He’d take industrial quantities of cocaine and become withdrawn and paranoid.
‘Women were always hitting on him because he was nice looking and generous with money but in all the years I knew him I never got the impression that he was a womaniser.
‘In the beginning I asked someone if he was gay because he showed so little interest in the beautiful women who were always around.
‘When I got to know him I realised he just wasn’t interested in sex. He was hit on all the time, by women and men, but he would shrug it off.
‘Everybody in Hollywood knew about Dodi’s rampaging drug habit.
‘It’s inconceivable to me that Dodi wasn’t using when he was with Diana. I don’t for a minute think she knew about it because they were together such a short time but if The Crown’s researchers had talked to any of Dodi’s friends his cocaine use would have been one of the first things that came up. It dominated his life.’
Chariots Of Fire director David Puttnam revealed that on one of the rare days Dodi showed up on set he kicked him out – for offering the cast cocaine. Puttnam arrived to shoot his film about the 1924 Olympics to find several cast members whose ‘mood had clearly been altered’ by what he believes was cocaine provided by Dodi.
Puttnam revealed: ‘I said to Dodi, ‘With the best will in the world, Dodi, this didn’t happen. And I never want to see you again around my cast and crew’.
‘It was very unpleasant. He was one of the laziest human beings I’ve ever come across. So the idea of him being an executive producer was always going to be hopeless because he had the attention span of the average flea.’
Cohen is more charitable about his old friend. ‘Dodi was sweet and shy, that’s one of the things The Crown does get right. He was a lost soul. He wanted everyone to be happy but he never seemed happy himself.
‘He was a generous friend but you always got the feeling there was a emptiness inside him. It was obvious his relationship with his father was at the root of it.
Dodi desperately wanted his father’s approval. He lived this lavish lifestyle but he hadn’t earned any of it.
‘He lived life at the mercy of his father. When Mohamed called he would drop everything. He’d say, ‘It’s my dad’ or, more often, ‘It’s the boss’. He would visibly change. He would be like a little boy.
‘Mohamed would cut Dodi off financially all the time. It was a real mind**** for Dodi.’
Dodi was given a $100,000-a-month allowance from Mohamed.
In LA he rented homes on the beach in Malibu and in the heights of Beverly Hills but would most often be found at his favourite haunt, a £1,500-a-night bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel on Sunset Strip where stars like Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Chaplin stayed. ‘He was soft-spoken and elegantly dressed,’ Cohen said.
Dodi flew back to LA for a business meeting after the yacht trip with Diana, then returned to Paris for what would be his final days. He died, aged 42, when drunk driver Henri Paul slammed the Mercedes he and Diana were travelling in into a post inside the Alma tunnel
While the series’ opening episodes focused on Dodi’s summer fling with Princess Diana and the couple’s death in a Paris car crash in August 1997, it left out the one thing all Dodi’s close friends knew… his ‘rampaging’ cocaine addiction
‘He would wear the most beautiful silk shirts, always unbuttoned by one button too many, and was incredibly well-groomed. We became friends because there was a genuine sweetness about him. His parties were legendary. He’d call up and say: ‘Are you up for the 3Cs?’ That was his code for champagne, caviar and cocaine.
‘Back in the Eighties you couldn’t go to any party in Hollywood without seeing cocaine. But I’ve never seen drugs on a scale like Dodi’s, before or since. You’d go into his bungalow and there would be bowls of it on every table. He had silver platters on the coffee table piled high with the stuff. There was no pretence at hiding it.
‘Dodi’s parties would go on for three days. People would come and go but he’d sit there taking drugs the whole time.
‘Not everyone there was a druggie. I’m not into drugs and a lot of people were there because it was the place to be. You never knew who was going to walk in the door. There was always a buzz in the room. It was where the beautiful people came.
‘The champagne never stopped. Nor did the caviar. It was excessive even by the standards of the ’80s, which were pretty wild.’
While there is no suggestion his guests shared his enthusiasm for drugs, Dodi’s parties were a giddy mix of celebrity and beauty.
A-Listers such as Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando would mingle with comics like Robin Williams and John Belushi. Perma-tanned actor George Hamilton was a friend (although famously health conscious). Dodi was linked to Barbra Streisand, Brooke Shields, Julia Roberts and Frank Sinatra’s daughter Nancy as well as a string of models including Marie Helvin and Prince Andrew’s former flame Koo Stark.
None of them shared his enthusiasm for drugs and all moved on once they realised the extent of his ‘problem’.
As Dodi’s drug-use escalated, so did his paranoia. ‘He was sweet but paranoid about getting kidnapped,’ Cohen said.
‘We would go to a restaurant called Trumps. He had a limo with an armed chauffeur which we would be in and then there was a car behind with a minimum of three bodyguards in it.
‘When we got to the restaurant one would stand at the door and the other two would have eyes on him at all times. His signal was to raise an arm and the bodyguards would rush in.
‘I said to him, ‘Why are you so worried about your safety when no one knows who you are?’ He shrugged and said: ‘People know my father is rich’.’
Dodi wasn’t being completely paranoid. At the time, there had been some high-profile kidnapping cases. Frank Sinatra Junior had been abducted by kidnappers a few years before and the wife of an executive who worked for media mogul Rupert Murdoch had been snatched and killed by a gang who thought she was Murdoch’s then-wife Anna.
Cohen said: ‘Dodi knew a Getty heir who had been kidnapped in Italy, which may have fed his paranoia.
‘We rarely went out. Dodi didn’t eat much because of the drugs but when he did it was mostly room service. Hairdressers, manicurists and masseuses would come to him.
‘It struck me that he was quite lonely. I’d tease him about being so reclusive because he wasn’t famous.’
All that would change when Dodi met Diana in summer 1997.
At the time, she was recovering from the end of her relationship with surgeon Hasnat Khan, the man many have called her ‘true love’, and Dodi was engaged to model Kelly Fisher.
As The Crown’s recent episodes show, Dodi’s father engineered the relationship, encouraging his son to romance Diana even though Dodi was with Kelly who he had met at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
While Dodi was wooing Diana in the South of France on his father’s superyacht the Jonikal, Kelly was on a smaller rented yacht a short tender ride away.
Kelly later told me: ‘I don’t think Diana had any clue he was with her by day and sleeping with me at night.’
For Cohen, like many of Dodi’s friends, the romance with Diana was a bolt from the blue. ‘He’d tried to clean up his act,’ he said. ‘His father wouldn’t put him in rehab for the drugs because he was embarrassed that people would find out.
‘Dodi told me he’d been to a clinic in Switzerland where all his blood had been ‘swapped out’ to cure his cocaine problem. I don’t know if he was sober when he died.
‘Like most of his friends, I found out about Diana when the kissing pictures were published.
‘Everyone in Hollywood was talking about it because it was such an unlikely match. We all knew Dodi had his issues and that he had another girlfriend-slash-fiancee.
‘So when it came out that he was with Diana, people who knew him were in a state of shock.
‘She’s the last person I would have imagined Dodi ending up with.’
Dodi flew back to LA for a business meeting after the yacht trip with Diana, then returned to Paris for what would be his final days.
He died, aged 42, when drunk driver Henri Paul slammed the Mercedes he and Diana were travelling in into a post inside the Alma tunnel.
Cohen said: ‘I often wonder if Dodi’s drug use played any part in the accident.
‘When he was high on cocaine, he would get paranoid. In LA he would look behind him all the time. Maybe he urged the driver to go faster.’
For now, Cohen prefers to remember his friend with fondness.
‘Dodi was a good guy. He was flawed but he was a kind man, a gentle man. I always thought it was ironic his death was overshadowed because of Diana.
‘He was a good guy, that’s what I want people to know.
Chariots Of Fire director David Puttnam revealed that on one of the rare days Dodi showed up on set he kicked him out – for offering the cast cocaine. Puttnam arrived to shoot his film about the 1924 Olympics to find several cast members whose ‘mood had clearly been altered’ by what he believes was cocaine provided by Dodi
‘Even in death he wasn’t the main headline.’