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Episode
54

Harrods | The Playground of London's Rich & Famous

First published on
May 15, 2020
Arts & Culture
-
23
minutes
London
The Royal Family
Entrepreneurship
The Victorian Era

It's one of the most famous department stores in the world, catering to the world's rich and famous.

But it hasn't always been this way.

In this episode we take a look at the story of Harrods, and discover the fascinating and unusual history of this iconic London location.

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Transcript

[00:00:04] Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can learn fascinating things about the world at the same time as improving your English. 

[00:00:19] I'm Alastair Budge. 

[00:00:22] Today, we are going to be talking about a shop, but it is more than a shop.

[00:00:29] It's an institution with a fascinating history. 

[00:00:34] We'll discover how a little shop that started in London's poor East End grew and grew and became the playground of the rich and famous and how queens, princes, prime ministers and even entire countries got caught up with it.

[00:00:54] That's right, today we are going to be talking about one of the most famous department stores in the world, Harrods. 

[00:01:03] Before we get right into it though, this is just my chance to remind you that you can get all of the bonus podcasts, plus transcripts, key vocabulary, and more over on the website, which is Leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:18] We're now releasing one episode a week for everyone, but two episodes a week to our growing community, our members of curious minds. 

[00:01:27] So if you want to find out more about that, and I really hope you do, then head to Leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:01:36] Okay then without further ado, let's talk about Harrods. 

[00:01:42] For those of you that have been to London, I imagine that you might have been to Harrods or at least walked past it.

[00:01:51] And for those of you that have never been, perhaps you have heard of it, or at least you might recognise the logo

[00:01:59] It is one of the world's largest department stores covering 1.1 million square feet, which is about 14 football pitches. 

[00:02:11] It is located in a very fancy, upmarket area of London, Knightsbridge, which is one of the most expensive areas in London.

[00:02:22] But the story of how Harrods came to be, of how it became this huge luxury department store is pretty interesting. 

[00:02:33] And as with lots of things that we now take for granted, it has humble beginnings, it started small. 

[00:02:43] Our story starts back in the year 1824, with a 25 year old man called Charles Henry Harrod.

[00:02:54] He had started various small shops selling cloth and groceries in south and east London. 

[00:03:03] For almost 25 years, Charles Henry Harrod ran these small businesses happily enough, but they were nothing spectacular, at least in terms of business success. 

[00:03:19] Harrod himself had a quite colourful life and it's fair to say that he engaged in a few not completely legal activities.

[00:03:32] He was caught by the police receiving stolen goods, and was almost deported to Australia as was common for criminals in Britain at that time. 

[00:03:45] He narrowly escaped this punishment after numerous colleagues and employees petitioned, they complained on his behalf, saying that he was actually of excellent character and he didn't deserve to be sent to the other side of the world.

[00:04:04] Luckily for him, the appeals were accepted and he was only made to spend a year in a London prison, he wasn't sent all the way to Australia. 

[00:04:17] Then in 1849, 25 years after starting, the fate of Harrods changed. 

[00:04:26] London was rapidly expanding to the west and Harrod decided to move his shop to an area of London called Brompton, near Hyde Park. 

[00:04:40] Even though this is very much in central London now, 150 years ago, it was pretty far from the centre, which was further to the east.

[00:04:52] So this was a bit of a speculative move, a bit of a gamble

[00:04:58] The rationale, the reason for moving the shop was that London was expanding and 1851 was the year of the Great Exhibition. 

[00:05:09] Harrod thought that he could be in a good location for the crowds going to the exhibition, which was in Hyde Park, the park next to his chosen location.

[00:05:20] It proved to be an excellent move, and the trajectory of Harrods was changed for the better. 

[00:05:30] Shortly after this move, the original founder, Charles Henry Harrod passed on the business to his son, Charles Digby Harrod. 

[00:05:42] The son, Charles Digby, was much more innovative than his father and under his direction, the store grew and grew, eventually employing a hundred people by 1881. 

[00:06:00] It had also branched out, by this time it had expanded the products that it was selling into, medicine, perfume, groceries, and much more from this one shop, which was quite a novelty at the time. 

[00:06:19] Also, far from being a luxury store, catering for those with deep pockets, it was originally a quite low price shop, but it did have an emphasis on quality.

[00:06:35] Its motto, its slogan, was 'Omnia Omnibus Ubique', which is Latin for all things, for all people, everywhere. 

[00:06:47] That is, I should say, still the slogan of Harrods. 

[00:06:51] However, if you go in there now and look at the price tags, I think you might debate how applicable that slogan still is.

[00:07:00] But it wasn't plain sailing for Harrods, it wasn't a straightforward rise to the top, to the status that it now has. 

[00:07:11] The story of Harrods almost came to a crashing end just a few years later, in 1883, when the whole store burned to the ground, it was completely destroyed. 

[00:07:28] To make matters worse, this happened just before Christmas, the busiest time of the year for Harrods.

[00:07:36] So it was suddenly left with a building burnt to the ground, but still needing to fulfill thousands of orders for Christmas. 

[00:07:48] Rather than apologising and telling his customers that unfortunately, their Christmas order was canceled that year, Harrod insisted that every single one was fulfilled, every order was honoured.

[00:08:05] And he did it. 

[00:08:07] After this Harrods gained a name for reliability and quality, and it soon became a favourite of high class Londoners, including names you would probably recognise - people like Oscar Wilde, Charlie Chaplin, Sigmund Freud, and a large part of the British Royal family.

[00:08:32] It also became a place where various new technological developments were shown off to the public. 

[00:08:41] One of my favourite stories about Harrods is that it was the place where the first escalator was installed in 1898. 

[00:08:51] Now to you or me going on an escalator might just seem like a pretty normal thing, nothing to be worried about, and we're just used to them being an easier way of going up or down levels, as opposed to stairs. 

[00:09:09] But if you try to put yourself in the shoes of someone in 1898 who had never seen an escalator before, you can imagine it might have seemed quite scary. 

[00:09:23] Harrods knew that it might be a bit scary for their customers, and so they had someone at the top of the escalator who offered a glass of brandy to people who had come up as a way of helping them recover and regain their nerves

[00:09:41] Quite something, right? 

[00:09:42] Harrods cemented its reputation as a British institution in the first half of the 20th century, even switching from upmarket premium department store to making uniforms and parachutes during World War II. 

[00:10:03] It also changed hands several times, it was bought and sold several times. 

[00:10:09] But it was in 1985 when our story really starts to get interesting again as it was bought by the Egyptian Mohamed Al-Fayed.

[00:10:21] Now, Al-Fayed was, and still is, I should say, a larger than life character. He is anything but boring. 

[00:10:31] He is an Egyptian and had accumulated a large amount of money through slightly opaque business dealings in Egypt, the Middle East and Haiti.

[00:10:44] He had made a lot of money and he bought the Ritz in Paris in 1979, and then turned his attention to Harrods. 

[00:10:55] It was claimed when he bought Harrods that in fact he had lied about his wealth, about how much money he had, and that he had faked various pieces of information about his background.

[00:11:11] Maybe he wasn't as rich as he had told everyone he was. 

[00:11:16] Also, he was known as Mohamed Al-Fayed, but his name at birth was actually just Mohamed Fayed. 

[00:11:24] He adopted the 'Al' when he was around 45. 

[00:11:30] People have assumed that he added this 'Al' to his name to make him sound more aristocratic, of better background, similar to how in French, you might have 'de' something or in German 'von'. 

[00:11:46] But interestingly enough, 'Al' doesn't have the same connotations in Arabic. 

[00:11:54] So one famous British satirical magazine called Private Eye decided to refer to Al-Fayed as the phony Pharaoh, the fake pharoah. 

[00:12:07] With Al-Fayed as the owner of Harrods things certainly became more interesting. 

[00:12:15] He installed a large Egyptian room in Harrods with pictures of himself. 

[00:12:21] He also dragged Harrods into some strange controversies and strange areas that it had never experienced before. 

[00:12:31] Firstly, Al-Fayed was very protective of the Harrods name and the Harrods brand. 

[00:12:39] So much so that anyone who used a name that was in any way similar was considered a threat, no matter if they had nothing at all to do with Harrods in London.

[00:12:53] In 1986, for example, Al-Fayed launched a lawsuit against a small restaurant in New Zealand run by a man called Henry Harrod. 

[00:13:06] That restaurant was called Harrods, and Al-Fayed wasn't happy that there were two Harrods in the world, despite them being on completely different sides of the world and doing very different things.

[00:13:21] Unfortunately for Al-Fayed, the entire town that Harrods New Zealand was in decided to support the local businessman, proposing that every single business in the town change its name to Harrods. 

[00:13:36] And even the town, which is called Otorohanga, change its name to Harrodsville, just to support the local restaurant, and of course to annoy Al-Fayed. 

[00:13:48] This pressure worked and Al-Fayed dropped the charges.

[00:13:55] As you might imagine, the local businesses also decided not to change their name, and the town also decided to keep its original name.

[00:14:05] Secondly, there was something called the cash for questions scandal

[00:14:11] Al-Fayed said that he had paid two MPs, two members of parliament, to ask questions for him in the British parliament. 

[00:14:22] While there was nothing actually technically illegal about this, the MPs should have declared that they did it. 

[00:14:30] Instead, they didn't. 

[00:14:32] There was a big, big scandal involving the prime minister and now Harrods, which was intrinsically linked to Al-Fayed. 

[00:14:42] And finally was an event that I'm sure you have heard of, the death of Princess Diana in 1997 in Paris. 

[00:14:53] Now, Princess Diana, in case you need a reminder, she was the wife of Prince Charles, the son of the queen of England.

[00:15:03] They divorced after an unhappy marriage, and Diana started dating a man called Dodi, Dodi Al-Fayed, the son of Mohamed Al-Fayed, the owner of Harrods. 

[00:15:17] Dodi was in the car with Diana and they both died in the car crash. 

[00:15:22] Mohamed Al-Fayed, understandably was traumatised

[00:15:26] He had lost his son.

[00:15:29] But rather than mourning in private he waged a personal war against the Royal family, claiming that they had murdered his son.

[00:15:41] He said that Prince Phillip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth had conspired with MI6 the British secret service to murder Dodi and Diana. 

[00:15:54] Despite there being no real strong evidence that this was what actually happened, Al-Fayed was having none of it, he was at war with the British Royal family and this put Harrods in a difficult position.

[00:16:10] Harrods had previously held something called a Royal warrant, which is something that probably seems strange to anyone who isn't British. 

[00:16:22] And even if you're British, and think about it for a minute, it is still pretty strange. 

[00:16:28] A Royal warrant means that you have the right to provide goods or services to the Royal family, and you can advertise the fact that you do this.

[00:16:39] It's seen as almost the ultimate stamp of quality. 

[00:16:44] The unwritten meaning being that if it's good enough for the queen, it's good enough for me. 

[00:16:52] Anyway, Harrods had several of these Royal warrants and had held them since 1910. 

[00:17:01] Al-Fayed, furious with the Royal family after losing his son, took down the Royal warrants from the department store and later revealed that he had burnt them.

[00:17:14] He'd destroyed the Royal warrants. 

[00:17:17] In 2010 Al-Fayed decided that enough was enough

[00:17:22] He had owned the store for 25 years and he got an offer he couldn't refuse, actually from the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, for one and a half billion pounds. 

[00:17:35] And that that was it, that particular era of Harrods ended, its new owner is ultimately Qatar, the country. 

[00:17:45] Harrods now is still a massive business with hundreds of thousands of visitors every day, at least in pre Covid times.

[00:17:57] And it is a pretty surreal place. 

[00:18:00] So let's just finish this episode with three of the strangest facts and stories about Harrods. 

[00:18:07] Firstly, until 2014 in addition to clothes, food, jewellery, perfume, and hundreds of other things, Harrods sold exotic animals. 

[00:18:22] It had a famous pet department where you could buy things like lions, tigers and panthers. 

[00:18:30] There is a really cute film actually called Christian the Lion, which tells the story of a lion that was bought in Harrods and then released into the wild. 

[00:18:40] Just search for Christian the lion in YouTube, and you'll find it.

[00:18:44] Thankfully, Harrods has now stopped its policy of selling exotic animals, although it does continue to sell lots of exotic stuff at sky high prices. 

[00:18:57] And this leads us onto our next weird story. 

[00:19:02] Perhaps unsurprisingly, Harrods comes up a lot in stories about lavish spending by some slightly dodgy and disreputable individuals. 

[00:19:16] A lady called Zamira Hajiyeva, the wife of an Azerbaijani banker who is at the centre of a money laundering case in London, was asked to explain where she got the money to spend 16 million pounds at Harrods over the course of 10 years, including £24,000 on tea and coffee, £10,000 on fruit and vegetables, and £32,000 on chocolates. 

[00:19:49] And on 11 different occasions, she spent over £250,000 in one single day at Harrods.

[00:20:01] If you are wondering, she doesn't really have a good explanation about where she got the money. 

[00:20:08] And Harrods also got into the news because Asma al-Assad, the wife of the Syrian leader was a famous Harrods customer, once spending £10,000 just on candlesticks. 

[00:20:23] So they've got some slightly dodgy clients. However, these dodgy clients do spend quite a lot of money. 

[00:20:32] And one final quite funny story, which I think is actually quite telling is about a hoodie that was put on sale in Harrods at the hefty price of £680, which was almost a thousand dollars at the time.

[00:20:52] So a hoodie, just in case you don't know what it is, it is a sweater, a pullover, a jumper with a hood on it, the kind of thing you could buy in a normal shop for £20, let's say, or even less.

[00:21:08] So, what was so special about this hoodie, you might ask, the £680 hoodie that you could get from Harrods? 

[00:21:16] Well, nothing really. 

[00:21:17] It was just black and it had some letters on the front in Cyrillic, in the Russian alphabet. 

[00:21:25] When it was shared on Twitter, some helpful Russians pointed out that it actually said, and you'll have to excuse my language here, it said, go fuck yourself.

[00:21:38] When this was revealed, it was swiftly removed from sale by Harrods. 

[00:21:43] So there are lots of things that money can buy you, but class and style, unfortunately doesn't seem to be one of them. 

[00:21:53] Okay then that is it for today's episode on Harrods. 

[00:21:59] I hope it was a fun one. 

[00:22:00] If you do get the chance to go to London whenever that might be, it certainly is worth a visit at least topoke your nose in to Harrods.

[00:22:11] It's a fascinating place, has a very interesting history as we found out, and don't worry, you definitely don't need to buy anything. 

[00:22:21] Just have a wander around knowing that you probably now know more about the story of this shop than 99.9% of the people in there. 

[00:22:31] As always, I would love to know what you thought of the show.

[00:22:35] The email is hi Hi@leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:22:40] And just as a final reminder, if you are looking for all of the bonus episodes plus transcripts, key vocabulary, member Q&A sessions, requesting podcasts and more, then the place to go to is Leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:22:57] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English.

[00:23:02] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF PODCAST]


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[00:00:04] Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can learn fascinating things about the world at the same time as improving your English. 

[00:00:19] I'm Alastair Budge. 

[00:00:22] Today, we are going to be talking about a shop, but it is more than a shop.

[00:00:29] It's an institution with a fascinating history. 

[00:00:34] We'll discover how a little shop that started in London's poor East End grew and grew and became the playground of the rich and famous and how queens, princes, prime ministers and even entire countries got caught up with it.

[00:00:54] That's right, today we are going to be talking about one of the most famous department stores in the world, Harrods. 

[00:01:03] Before we get right into it though, this is just my chance to remind you that you can get all of the bonus podcasts, plus transcripts, key vocabulary, and more over on the website, which is Leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:18] We're now releasing one episode a week for everyone, but two episodes a week to our growing community, our members of curious minds. 

[00:01:27] So if you want to find out more about that, and I really hope you do, then head to Leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:01:36] Okay then without further ado, let's talk about Harrods. 

[00:01:42] For those of you that have been to London, I imagine that you might have been to Harrods or at least walked past it.

[00:01:51] And for those of you that have never been, perhaps you have heard of it, or at least you might recognise the logo

[00:01:59] It is one of the world's largest department stores covering 1.1 million square feet, which is about 14 football pitches. 

[00:02:11] It is located in a very fancy, upmarket area of London, Knightsbridge, which is one of the most expensive areas in London.

[00:02:22] But the story of how Harrods came to be, of how it became this huge luxury department store is pretty interesting. 

[00:02:33] And as with lots of things that we now take for granted, it has humble beginnings, it started small. 

[00:02:43] Our story starts back in the year 1824, with a 25 year old man called Charles Henry Harrod.

[00:02:54] He had started various small shops selling cloth and groceries in south and east London. 

[00:03:03] For almost 25 years, Charles Henry Harrod ran these small businesses happily enough, but they were nothing spectacular, at least in terms of business success. 

[00:03:19] Harrod himself had a quite colourful life and it's fair to say that he engaged in a few not completely legal activities.

[00:03:32] He was caught by the police receiving stolen goods, and was almost deported to Australia as was common for criminals in Britain at that time. 

[00:03:45] He narrowly escaped this punishment after numerous colleagues and employees petitioned, they complained on his behalf, saying that he was actually of excellent character and he didn't deserve to be sent to the other side of the world.

[00:04:04] Luckily for him, the appeals were accepted and he was only made to spend a year in a London prison, he wasn't sent all the way to Australia. 

[00:04:17] Then in 1849, 25 years after starting, the fate of Harrods changed. 

[00:04:26] London was rapidly expanding to the west and Harrod decided to move his shop to an area of London called Brompton, near Hyde Park. 

[00:04:40] Even though this is very much in central London now, 150 years ago, it was pretty far from the centre, which was further to the east.

[00:04:52] So this was a bit of a speculative move, a bit of a gamble

[00:04:58] The rationale, the reason for moving the shop was that London was expanding and 1851 was the year of the Great Exhibition. 

[00:05:09] Harrod thought that he could be in a good location for the crowds going to the exhibition, which was in Hyde Park, the park next to his chosen location.

[00:05:20] It proved to be an excellent move, and the trajectory of Harrods was changed for the better. 

[00:05:30] Shortly after this move, the original founder, Charles Henry Harrod passed on the business to his son, Charles Digby Harrod. 

[00:05:42] The son, Charles Digby, was much more innovative than his father and under his direction, the store grew and grew, eventually employing a hundred people by 1881. 

[00:06:00] It had also branched out, by this time it had expanded the products that it was selling into, medicine, perfume, groceries, and much more from this one shop, which was quite a novelty at the time. 

[00:06:19] Also, far from being a luxury store, catering for those with deep pockets, it was originally a quite low price shop, but it did have an emphasis on quality.

[00:06:35] Its motto, its slogan, was 'Omnia Omnibus Ubique', which is Latin for all things, for all people, everywhere. 

[00:06:47] That is, I should say, still the slogan of Harrods. 

[00:06:51] However, if you go in there now and look at the price tags, I think you might debate how applicable that slogan still is.

[00:07:00] But it wasn't plain sailing for Harrods, it wasn't a straightforward rise to the top, to the status that it now has. 

[00:07:11] The story of Harrods almost came to a crashing end just a few years later, in 1883, when the whole store burned to the ground, it was completely destroyed. 

[00:07:28] To make matters worse, this happened just before Christmas, the busiest time of the year for Harrods.

[00:07:36] So it was suddenly left with a building burnt to the ground, but still needing to fulfill thousands of orders for Christmas. 

[00:07:48] Rather than apologising and telling his customers that unfortunately, their Christmas order was canceled that year, Harrod insisted that every single one was fulfilled, every order was honoured.

[00:08:05] And he did it. 

[00:08:07] After this Harrods gained a name for reliability and quality, and it soon became a favourite of high class Londoners, including names you would probably recognise - people like Oscar Wilde, Charlie Chaplin, Sigmund Freud, and a large part of the British Royal family.

[00:08:32] It also became a place where various new technological developments were shown off to the public. 

[00:08:41] One of my favourite stories about Harrods is that it was the place where the first escalator was installed in 1898. 

[00:08:51] Now to you or me going on an escalator might just seem like a pretty normal thing, nothing to be worried about, and we're just used to them being an easier way of going up or down levels, as opposed to stairs. 

[00:09:09] But if you try to put yourself in the shoes of someone in 1898 who had never seen an escalator before, you can imagine it might have seemed quite scary. 

[00:09:23] Harrods knew that it might be a bit scary for their customers, and so they had someone at the top of the escalator who offered a glass of brandy to people who had come up as a way of helping them recover and regain their nerves

[00:09:41] Quite something, right? 

[00:09:42] Harrods cemented its reputation as a British institution in the first half of the 20th century, even switching from upmarket premium department store to making uniforms and parachutes during World War II. 

[00:10:03] It also changed hands several times, it was bought and sold several times. 

[00:10:09] But it was in 1985 when our story really starts to get interesting again as it was bought by the Egyptian Mohamed Al-Fayed.

[00:10:21] Now, Al-Fayed was, and still is, I should say, a larger than life character. He is anything but boring. 

[00:10:31] He is an Egyptian and had accumulated a large amount of money through slightly opaque business dealings in Egypt, the Middle East and Haiti.

[00:10:44] He had made a lot of money and he bought the Ritz in Paris in 1979, and then turned his attention to Harrods. 

[00:10:55] It was claimed when he bought Harrods that in fact he had lied about his wealth, about how much money he had, and that he had faked various pieces of information about his background.

[00:11:11] Maybe he wasn't as rich as he had told everyone he was. 

[00:11:16] Also, he was known as Mohamed Al-Fayed, but his name at birth was actually just Mohamed Fayed. 

[00:11:24] He adopted the 'Al' when he was around 45. 

[00:11:30] People have assumed that he added this 'Al' to his name to make him sound more aristocratic, of better background, similar to how in French, you might have 'de' something or in German 'von'. 

[00:11:46] But interestingly enough, 'Al' doesn't have the same connotations in Arabic. 

[00:11:54] So one famous British satirical magazine called Private Eye decided to refer to Al-Fayed as the phony Pharaoh, the fake pharoah. 

[00:12:07] With Al-Fayed as the owner of Harrods things certainly became more interesting. 

[00:12:15] He installed a large Egyptian room in Harrods with pictures of himself. 

[00:12:21] He also dragged Harrods into some strange controversies and strange areas that it had never experienced before. 

[00:12:31] Firstly, Al-Fayed was very protective of the Harrods name and the Harrods brand. 

[00:12:39] So much so that anyone who used a name that was in any way similar was considered a threat, no matter if they had nothing at all to do with Harrods in London.

[00:12:53] In 1986, for example, Al-Fayed launched a lawsuit against a small restaurant in New Zealand run by a man called Henry Harrod. 

[00:13:06] That restaurant was called Harrods, and Al-Fayed wasn't happy that there were two Harrods in the world, despite them being on completely different sides of the world and doing very different things.

[00:13:21] Unfortunately for Al-Fayed, the entire town that Harrods New Zealand was in decided to support the local businessman, proposing that every single business in the town change its name to Harrods. 

[00:13:36] And even the town, which is called Otorohanga, change its name to Harrodsville, just to support the local restaurant, and of course to annoy Al-Fayed. 

[00:13:48] This pressure worked and Al-Fayed dropped the charges.

[00:13:55] As you might imagine, the local businesses also decided not to change their name, and the town also decided to keep its original name.

[00:14:05] Secondly, there was something called the cash for questions scandal

[00:14:11] Al-Fayed said that he had paid two MPs, two members of parliament, to ask questions for him in the British parliament. 

[00:14:22] While there was nothing actually technically illegal about this, the MPs should have declared that they did it. 

[00:14:30] Instead, they didn't. 

[00:14:32] There was a big, big scandal involving the prime minister and now Harrods, which was intrinsically linked to Al-Fayed. 

[00:14:42] And finally was an event that I'm sure you have heard of, the death of Princess Diana in 1997 in Paris. 

[00:14:53] Now, Princess Diana, in case you need a reminder, she was the wife of Prince Charles, the son of the queen of England.

[00:15:03] They divorced after an unhappy marriage, and Diana started dating a man called Dodi, Dodi Al-Fayed, the son of Mohamed Al-Fayed, the owner of Harrods. 

[00:15:17] Dodi was in the car with Diana and they both died in the car crash. 

[00:15:22] Mohamed Al-Fayed, understandably was traumatised

[00:15:26] He had lost his son.

[00:15:29] But rather than mourning in private he waged a personal war against the Royal family, claiming that they had murdered his son.

[00:15:41] He said that Prince Phillip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth had conspired with MI6 the British secret service to murder Dodi and Diana. 

[00:15:54] Despite there being no real strong evidence that this was what actually happened, Al-Fayed was having none of it, he was at war with the British Royal family and this put Harrods in a difficult position.

[00:16:10] Harrods had previously held something called a Royal warrant, which is something that probably seems strange to anyone who isn't British. 

[00:16:22] And even if you're British, and think about it for a minute, it is still pretty strange. 

[00:16:28] A Royal warrant means that you have the right to provide goods or services to the Royal family, and you can advertise the fact that you do this.

[00:16:39] It's seen as almost the ultimate stamp of quality. 

[00:16:44] The unwritten meaning being that if it's good enough for the queen, it's good enough for me. 

[00:16:52] Anyway, Harrods had several of these Royal warrants and had held them since 1910. 

[00:17:01] Al-Fayed, furious with the Royal family after losing his son, took down the Royal warrants from the department store and later revealed that he had burnt them.

[00:17:14] He'd destroyed the Royal warrants. 

[00:17:17] In 2010 Al-Fayed decided that enough was enough

[00:17:22] He had owned the store for 25 years and he got an offer he couldn't refuse, actually from the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, for one and a half billion pounds. 

[00:17:35] And that that was it, that particular era of Harrods ended, its new owner is ultimately Qatar, the country. 

[00:17:45] Harrods now is still a massive business with hundreds of thousands of visitors every day, at least in pre Covid times.

[00:17:57] And it is a pretty surreal place. 

[00:18:00] So let's just finish this episode with three of the strangest facts and stories about Harrods. 

[00:18:07] Firstly, until 2014 in addition to clothes, food, jewellery, perfume, and hundreds of other things, Harrods sold exotic animals. 

[00:18:22] It had a famous pet department where you could buy things like lions, tigers and panthers. 

[00:18:30] There is a really cute film actually called Christian the Lion, which tells the story of a lion that was bought in Harrods and then released into the wild. 

[00:18:40] Just search for Christian the lion in YouTube, and you'll find it.

[00:18:44] Thankfully, Harrods has now stopped its policy of selling exotic animals, although it does continue to sell lots of exotic stuff at sky high prices. 

[00:18:57] And this leads us onto our next weird story. 

[00:19:02] Perhaps unsurprisingly, Harrods comes up a lot in stories about lavish spending by some slightly dodgy and disreputable individuals. 

[00:19:16] A lady called Zamira Hajiyeva, the wife of an Azerbaijani banker who is at the centre of a money laundering case in London, was asked to explain where she got the money to spend 16 million pounds at Harrods over the course of 10 years, including £24,000 on tea and coffee, £10,000 on fruit and vegetables, and £32,000 on chocolates. 

[00:19:49] And on 11 different occasions, she spent over £250,000 in one single day at Harrods.

[00:20:01] If you are wondering, she doesn't really have a good explanation about where she got the money. 

[00:20:08] And Harrods also got into the news because Asma al-Assad, the wife of the Syrian leader was a famous Harrods customer, once spending £10,000 just on candlesticks. 

[00:20:23] So they've got some slightly dodgy clients. However, these dodgy clients do spend quite a lot of money. 

[00:20:32] And one final quite funny story, which I think is actually quite telling is about a hoodie that was put on sale in Harrods at the hefty price of £680, which was almost a thousand dollars at the time.

[00:20:52] So a hoodie, just in case you don't know what it is, it is a sweater, a pullover, a jumper with a hood on it, the kind of thing you could buy in a normal shop for £20, let's say, or even less.

[00:21:08] So, what was so special about this hoodie, you might ask, the £680 hoodie that you could get from Harrods? 

[00:21:16] Well, nothing really. 

[00:21:17] It was just black and it had some letters on the front in Cyrillic, in the Russian alphabet. 

[00:21:25] When it was shared on Twitter, some helpful Russians pointed out that it actually said, and you'll have to excuse my language here, it said, go fuck yourself.

[00:21:38] When this was revealed, it was swiftly removed from sale by Harrods. 

[00:21:43] So there are lots of things that money can buy you, but class and style, unfortunately doesn't seem to be one of them. 

[00:21:53] Okay then that is it for today's episode on Harrods. 

[00:21:59] I hope it was a fun one. 

[00:22:00] If you do get the chance to go to London whenever that might be, it certainly is worth a visit at least topoke your nose in to Harrods.

[00:22:11] It's a fascinating place, has a very interesting history as we found out, and don't worry, you definitely don't need to buy anything. 

[00:22:21] Just have a wander around knowing that you probably now know more about the story of this shop than 99.9% of the people in there. 

[00:22:31] As always, I would love to know what you thought of the show.

[00:22:35] The email is hi Hi@leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:22:40] And just as a final reminder, if you are looking for all of the bonus episodes plus transcripts, key vocabulary, member Q&A sessions, requesting podcasts and more, then the place to go to is Leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:22:57] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English.

[00:23:02] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF PODCAST]


[00:00:04] Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can learn fascinating things about the world at the same time as improving your English. 

[00:00:19] I'm Alastair Budge. 

[00:00:22] Today, we are going to be talking about a shop, but it is more than a shop.

[00:00:29] It's an institution with a fascinating history. 

[00:00:34] We'll discover how a little shop that started in London's poor East End grew and grew and became the playground of the rich and famous and how queens, princes, prime ministers and even entire countries got caught up with it.

[00:00:54] That's right, today we are going to be talking about one of the most famous department stores in the world, Harrods. 

[00:01:03] Before we get right into it though, this is just my chance to remind you that you can get all of the bonus podcasts, plus transcripts, key vocabulary, and more over on the website, which is Leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:18] We're now releasing one episode a week for everyone, but two episodes a week to our growing community, our members of curious minds. 

[00:01:27] So if you want to find out more about that, and I really hope you do, then head to Leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:01:36] Okay then without further ado, let's talk about Harrods. 

[00:01:42] For those of you that have been to London, I imagine that you might have been to Harrods or at least walked past it.

[00:01:51] And for those of you that have never been, perhaps you have heard of it, or at least you might recognise the logo

[00:01:59] It is one of the world's largest department stores covering 1.1 million square feet, which is about 14 football pitches. 

[00:02:11] It is located in a very fancy, upmarket area of London, Knightsbridge, which is one of the most expensive areas in London.

[00:02:22] But the story of how Harrods came to be, of how it became this huge luxury department store is pretty interesting. 

[00:02:33] And as with lots of things that we now take for granted, it has humble beginnings, it started small. 

[00:02:43] Our story starts back in the year 1824, with a 25 year old man called Charles Henry Harrod.

[00:02:54] He had started various small shops selling cloth and groceries in south and east London. 

[00:03:03] For almost 25 years, Charles Henry Harrod ran these small businesses happily enough, but they were nothing spectacular, at least in terms of business success. 

[00:03:19] Harrod himself had a quite colourful life and it's fair to say that he engaged in a few not completely legal activities.

[00:03:32] He was caught by the police receiving stolen goods, and was almost deported to Australia as was common for criminals in Britain at that time. 

[00:03:45] He narrowly escaped this punishment after numerous colleagues and employees petitioned, they complained on his behalf, saying that he was actually of excellent character and he didn't deserve to be sent to the other side of the world.

[00:04:04] Luckily for him, the appeals were accepted and he was only made to spend a year in a London prison, he wasn't sent all the way to Australia. 

[00:04:17] Then in 1849, 25 years after starting, the fate of Harrods changed. 

[00:04:26] London was rapidly expanding to the west and Harrod decided to move his shop to an area of London called Brompton, near Hyde Park. 

[00:04:40] Even though this is very much in central London now, 150 years ago, it was pretty far from the centre, which was further to the east.

[00:04:52] So this was a bit of a speculative move, a bit of a gamble

[00:04:58] The rationale, the reason for moving the shop was that London was expanding and 1851 was the year of the Great Exhibition. 

[00:05:09] Harrod thought that he could be in a good location for the crowds going to the exhibition, which was in Hyde Park, the park next to his chosen location.

[00:05:20] It proved to be an excellent move, and the trajectory of Harrods was changed for the better. 

[00:05:30] Shortly after this move, the original founder, Charles Henry Harrod passed on the business to his son, Charles Digby Harrod. 

[00:05:42] The son, Charles Digby, was much more innovative than his father and under his direction, the store grew and grew, eventually employing a hundred people by 1881. 

[00:06:00] It had also branched out, by this time it had expanded the products that it was selling into, medicine, perfume, groceries, and much more from this one shop, which was quite a novelty at the time. 

[00:06:19] Also, far from being a luxury store, catering for those with deep pockets, it was originally a quite low price shop, but it did have an emphasis on quality.

[00:06:35] Its motto, its slogan, was 'Omnia Omnibus Ubique', which is Latin for all things, for all people, everywhere. 

[00:06:47] That is, I should say, still the slogan of Harrods. 

[00:06:51] However, if you go in there now and look at the price tags, I think you might debate how applicable that slogan still is.

[00:07:00] But it wasn't plain sailing for Harrods, it wasn't a straightforward rise to the top, to the status that it now has. 

[00:07:11] The story of Harrods almost came to a crashing end just a few years later, in 1883, when the whole store burned to the ground, it was completely destroyed. 

[00:07:28] To make matters worse, this happened just before Christmas, the busiest time of the year for Harrods.

[00:07:36] So it was suddenly left with a building burnt to the ground, but still needing to fulfill thousands of orders for Christmas. 

[00:07:48] Rather than apologising and telling his customers that unfortunately, their Christmas order was canceled that year, Harrod insisted that every single one was fulfilled, every order was honoured.

[00:08:05] And he did it. 

[00:08:07] After this Harrods gained a name for reliability and quality, and it soon became a favourite of high class Londoners, including names you would probably recognise - people like Oscar Wilde, Charlie Chaplin, Sigmund Freud, and a large part of the British Royal family.

[00:08:32] It also became a place where various new technological developments were shown off to the public. 

[00:08:41] One of my favourite stories about Harrods is that it was the place where the first escalator was installed in 1898. 

[00:08:51] Now to you or me going on an escalator might just seem like a pretty normal thing, nothing to be worried about, and we're just used to them being an easier way of going up or down levels, as opposed to stairs. 

[00:09:09] But if you try to put yourself in the shoes of someone in 1898 who had never seen an escalator before, you can imagine it might have seemed quite scary. 

[00:09:23] Harrods knew that it might be a bit scary for their customers, and so they had someone at the top of the escalator who offered a glass of brandy to people who had come up as a way of helping them recover and regain their nerves

[00:09:41] Quite something, right? 

[00:09:42] Harrods cemented its reputation as a British institution in the first half of the 20th century, even switching from upmarket premium department store to making uniforms and parachutes during World War II. 

[00:10:03] It also changed hands several times, it was bought and sold several times. 

[00:10:09] But it was in 1985 when our story really starts to get interesting again as it was bought by the Egyptian Mohamed Al-Fayed.

[00:10:21] Now, Al-Fayed was, and still is, I should say, a larger than life character. He is anything but boring. 

[00:10:31] He is an Egyptian and had accumulated a large amount of money through slightly opaque business dealings in Egypt, the Middle East and Haiti.

[00:10:44] He had made a lot of money and he bought the Ritz in Paris in 1979, and then turned his attention to Harrods. 

[00:10:55] It was claimed when he bought Harrods that in fact he had lied about his wealth, about how much money he had, and that he had faked various pieces of information about his background.

[00:11:11] Maybe he wasn't as rich as he had told everyone he was. 

[00:11:16] Also, he was known as Mohamed Al-Fayed, but his name at birth was actually just Mohamed Fayed. 

[00:11:24] He adopted the 'Al' when he was around 45. 

[00:11:30] People have assumed that he added this 'Al' to his name to make him sound more aristocratic, of better background, similar to how in French, you might have 'de' something or in German 'von'. 

[00:11:46] But interestingly enough, 'Al' doesn't have the same connotations in Arabic. 

[00:11:54] So one famous British satirical magazine called Private Eye decided to refer to Al-Fayed as the phony Pharaoh, the fake pharoah. 

[00:12:07] With Al-Fayed as the owner of Harrods things certainly became more interesting. 

[00:12:15] He installed a large Egyptian room in Harrods with pictures of himself. 

[00:12:21] He also dragged Harrods into some strange controversies and strange areas that it had never experienced before. 

[00:12:31] Firstly, Al-Fayed was very protective of the Harrods name and the Harrods brand. 

[00:12:39] So much so that anyone who used a name that was in any way similar was considered a threat, no matter if they had nothing at all to do with Harrods in London.

[00:12:53] In 1986, for example, Al-Fayed launched a lawsuit against a small restaurant in New Zealand run by a man called Henry Harrod. 

[00:13:06] That restaurant was called Harrods, and Al-Fayed wasn't happy that there were two Harrods in the world, despite them being on completely different sides of the world and doing very different things.

[00:13:21] Unfortunately for Al-Fayed, the entire town that Harrods New Zealand was in decided to support the local businessman, proposing that every single business in the town change its name to Harrods. 

[00:13:36] And even the town, which is called Otorohanga, change its name to Harrodsville, just to support the local restaurant, and of course to annoy Al-Fayed. 

[00:13:48] This pressure worked and Al-Fayed dropped the charges.

[00:13:55] As you might imagine, the local businesses also decided not to change their name, and the town also decided to keep its original name.

[00:14:05] Secondly, there was something called the cash for questions scandal

[00:14:11] Al-Fayed said that he had paid two MPs, two members of parliament, to ask questions for him in the British parliament. 

[00:14:22] While there was nothing actually technically illegal about this, the MPs should have declared that they did it. 

[00:14:30] Instead, they didn't. 

[00:14:32] There was a big, big scandal involving the prime minister and now Harrods, which was intrinsically linked to Al-Fayed. 

[00:14:42] And finally was an event that I'm sure you have heard of, the death of Princess Diana in 1997 in Paris. 

[00:14:53] Now, Princess Diana, in case you need a reminder, she was the wife of Prince Charles, the son of the queen of England.

[00:15:03] They divorced after an unhappy marriage, and Diana started dating a man called Dodi, Dodi Al-Fayed, the son of Mohamed Al-Fayed, the owner of Harrods. 

[00:15:17] Dodi was in the car with Diana and they both died in the car crash. 

[00:15:22] Mohamed Al-Fayed, understandably was traumatised

[00:15:26] He had lost his son.

[00:15:29] But rather than mourning in private he waged a personal war against the Royal family, claiming that they had murdered his son.

[00:15:41] He said that Prince Phillip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth had conspired with MI6 the British secret service to murder Dodi and Diana. 

[00:15:54] Despite there being no real strong evidence that this was what actually happened, Al-Fayed was having none of it, he was at war with the British Royal family and this put Harrods in a difficult position.

[00:16:10] Harrods had previously held something called a Royal warrant, which is something that probably seems strange to anyone who isn't British. 

[00:16:22] And even if you're British, and think about it for a minute, it is still pretty strange. 

[00:16:28] A Royal warrant means that you have the right to provide goods or services to the Royal family, and you can advertise the fact that you do this.

[00:16:39] It's seen as almost the ultimate stamp of quality. 

[00:16:44] The unwritten meaning being that if it's good enough for the queen, it's good enough for me. 

[00:16:52] Anyway, Harrods had several of these Royal warrants and had held them since 1910. 

[00:17:01] Al-Fayed, furious with the Royal family after losing his son, took down the Royal warrants from the department store and later revealed that he had burnt them.

[00:17:14] He'd destroyed the Royal warrants. 

[00:17:17] In 2010 Al-Fayed decided that enough was enough

[00:17:22] He had owned the store for 25 years and he got an offer he couldn't refuse, actually from the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, for one and a half billion pounds. 

[00:17:35] And that that was it, that particular era of Harrods ended, its new owner is ultimately Qatar, the country. 

[00:17:45] Harrods now is still a massive business with hundreds of thousands of visitors every day, at least in pre Covid times.

[00:17:57] And it is a pretty surreal place. 

[00:18:00] So let's just finish this episode with three of the strangest facts and stories about Harrods. 

[00:18:07] Firstly, until 2014 in addition to clothes, food, jewellery, perfume, and hundreds of other things, Harrods sold exotic animals. 

[00:18:22] It had a famous pet department where you could buy things like lions, tigers and panthers. 

[00:18:30] There is a really cute film actually called Christian the Lion, which tells the story of a lion that was bought in Harrods and then released into the wild. 

[00:18:40] Just search for Christian the lion in YouTube, and you'll find it.

[00:18:44] Thankfully, Harrods has now stopped its policy of selling exotic animals, although it does continue to sell lots of exotic stuff at sky high prices. 

[00:18:57] And this leads us onto our next weird story. 

[00:19:02] Perhaps unsurprisingly, Harrods comes up a lot in stories about lavish spending by some slightly dodgy and disreputable individuals. 

[00:19:16] A lady called Zamira Hajiyeva, the wife of an Azerbaijani banker who is at the centre of a money laundering case in London, was asked to explain where she got the money to spend 16 million pounds at Harrods over the course of 10 years, including £24,000 on tea and coffee, £10,000 on fruit and vegetables, and £32,000 on chocolates. 

[00:19:49] And on 11 different occasions, she spent over £250,000 in one single day at Harrods.

[00:20:01] If you are wondering, she doesn't really have a good explanation about where she got the money. 

[00:20:08] And Harrods also got into the news because Asma al-Assad, the wife of the Syrian leader was a famous Harrods customer, once spending £10,000 just on candlesticks. 

[00:20:23] So they've got some slightly dodgy clients. However, these dodgy clients do spend quite a lot of money. 

[00:20:32] And one final quite funny story, which I think is actually quite telling is about a hoodie that was put on sale in Harrods at the hefty price of £680, which was almost a thousand dollars at the time.

[00:20:52] So a hoodie, just in case you don't know what it is, it is a sweater, a pullover, a jumper with a hood on it, the kind of thing you could buy in a normal shop for £20, let's say, or even less.

[00:21:08] So, what was so special about this hoodie, you might ask, the £680 hoodie that you could get from Harrods? 

[00:21:16] Well, nothing really. 

[00:21:17] It was just black and it had some letters on the front in Cyrillic, in the Russian alphabet. 

[00:21:25] When it was shared on Twitter, some helpful Russians pointed out that it actually said, and you'll have to excuse my language here, it said, go fuck yourself.

[00:21:38] When this was revealed, it was swiftly removed from sale by Harrods. 

[00:21:43] So there are lots of things that money can buy you, but class and style, unfortunately doesn't seem to be one of them. 

[00:21:53] Okay then that is it for today's episode on Harrods. 

[00:21:59] I hope it was a fun one. 

[00:22:00] If you do get the chance to go to London whenever that might be, it certainly is worth a visit at least topoke your nose in to Harrods.

[00:22:11] It's a fascinating place, has a very interesting history as we found out, and don't worry, you definitely don't need to buy anything. 

[00:22:21] Just have a wander around knowing that you probably now know more about the story of this shop than 99.9% of the people in there. 

[00:22:31] As always, I would love to know what you thought of the show.

[00:22:35] The email is hi Hi@leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:22:40] And just as a final reminder, if you are looking for all of the bonus episodes plus transcripts, key vocabulary, member Q&A sessions, requesting podcasts and more, then the place to go to is Leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:22:57] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English.

[00:23:02] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF PODCAST]