In Defense of Dodi
Daily Express newspaper, Wednesday July 18,2012
By Michael Cole
WHEN David Puttnam went up on the stage at the Oscars ceremony in 1982 to collect the award for Best Picture for Chariots Of Fire he said: “I have to thank you Mohamed and Dodi Fayed who came through for us and put their money where my mouth was.”
Now 30 years later and a peer of the realm the ennobled Lord Puttnam has attempted to blacken the name of Dodi Fayed in the most vile and nasty way imaginable.
In a newspaper interview Lord Puttnam has said that he “suspects” that Dodi had provided cocaine to some of the cast of the film. Really? And on what basis does he make this most damaging allegation? Because, says the noble Lord, he arrived one day during the filming to find a number of the cast members “whose mood had clearly been altered”.
He says he suspected Dodi had given them cocaine and ordered him off the set.
Well I hope his Lordship is never prosecuted for a serious crime on the basis of such flimsy evidence. In fact no evidence at all, just suspicion.
Why has Lord Puttnam attacked the memory of the man who financed Chariots Of Fire for him and later died alongside Diana?
There could have been many other reasons for an actor’s change of mood – perhaps even fear. Nigel Havers, one of the stars of Chariots, said he concealed a broken wrist because he feared he would be kicked off the film if his injury became known.
Here are the facts. I knew Dodi for 12 years. I never knew him to take cocaine or any other drug and never saw him intoxicated. He was always moderate and pleasant in his behaviour and a model of self-control.
When there were unfounded allegations about drug use during his all-too-brief and ultimately tragic relationship with Diana, Princess of Wales, I asked him directly if he took cocaine or any drug. He looked me in the eye and said: “Absolutely not.”
Cuban cigars were the only thing I ever saw Dodi smoke and then very occasionally.
Dodi was never in his 42 years charged with any criminal offence in Britain, the United States or elsewhere. For Lord Puttnam, a leading member of the Church of England, to make such an unfounded allegation knowing that Dodi cannot defend himself is astonishing and utterly unconscionable.
Dodi has been dead for nearly 15 years. Why did Lord Puttnam not make his allegation when he was alive? By his own account Lord Puttnam did not see Dodi doing the things he now alleges. He just “suspected” he had provided drugs to the cast. What does that reveal about the man who is now one of the great and good of the British establishment?
If the then David Puttnam had genuine cause to believe that Dodi was taking or distributing drugs his duty was clear. He should have called the police and had users or pushers arrested. Not to have done so would have been a failure in his civic duty, perhaps even an interference with the course of justice.
The truth is that David Puttnam, who paid proper tribute to Dodi and his father when he picked up an Oscar for the only time in his life, owes a great deal to Dodi which makes his way of repaying that debt even more astonishing.
Chariots Of Fire gave him a rapid ride to fame and fortune. But it would never have been made had not Dodi persuaded his father to invest in the film. No one else would do so at that time when the cinema was obsessed with crime capers, sex scenes and profanity. The script had been gathering dust.
But the story of one man, Harold Abrahams, who triumphs over British snobbery and anti-Semitism to win Olympic gold in 1924 and another man, Eric Liddell, who refuses to compromise his conscience and triumphs too, appealed immediately to Mohamed Al Fayad and he put his money into the production as Puttnam rightly acknowledged.
Without the support of an Egyptian father and son the first British film to win four Oscars – and also a Bafta – would never have seen the cinema screen.
In an article Lord Puttnam has given credit to “the hidden hand” of God guiding him in the film’s production, enabling him to overcome every hurdle. Perhaps. But what is sure is that it was the hands of Dodi and Mohamed extended in friendship and support that gave life and birth to the most successful film Puttnam ever produced.
God’s name was not on the credits but Dodi’s was, as executive producer. As Hugh Hudson, the director of the film, said last week: “Dodi and his company Allied Stars were equal partners in the film from the very start.”
What a graceless way for Lord Puttnam to repay such generosity.
There must be something in the Bible about the denial of gratitude when it is due. But I can think only of what Shakespeare said. Ingratitude, he wrote, is “sharper than a serpent’s tooth”.
Above all, I think it is sad that Lord Puttnam should choose to mark the 30th anniversary of this wonderful film and its re-release in a newly digitised format by seeking to defame the memory of Dodi, a man held in great affection by his friends and in esteem within the film industry on both sides of the Atlantic.
Michael Cole was BBC royal correspondent 1985-1988 and director of public affairs at Harrods from 1988-98.