After spending 11 years working for Queen Elizabeth as chef number twenty of twenty, Princess Diana requested Darren McGrady personally to work for her following her unofficial separation from Prince Charles in 1993. He became her personal chef, cooking for her and Princes William and Harry, who would have been just nine and 11, at Kensington Palace right up to the day of her car accident in 1997.
McGrady said: "I spent eleven years in the royal kitchen and saw Princess Diana on weekends, Christmas, and Easter. I got to know her on a familiar basis, and she would come into the kitchen and look for me. When she and Prince Charles separated, she asked if I would be her chef. She was incredible. She was always interested in what was going on behind those doors in the kitchen, what was my wife up to. When my daughter was born, she sent flowers to the hospital. She held her. She always remembered birthdays."
The world was witness to the many times Princess Diana helped those most in need, but McGrady said it wasn't just for show. He recalled a time when Princess Diana asked him to go to the Harrods department store to buy 50 blankets for people in need. "She said: 'I've just been driving through Kings Cross and I've seen people pulling cardboard boxes out of the trash cans and they just want to stay warm.' She went off driving around Kings Cross on her own, putting them next to the trash cans still with the Harrods label on them." McGrady said.
McGrady recalled the royals as being like any normal family, with no stiff or formal pretenses about them. The young princes sometimes even ate while watching TV. "When William and Harry were home, they were in the nursery upstairs and we'd always knew they were there because they'd be thundering up and down along the corridor or racing through the kitchen in their army uniforms playing soldiers. Cooking for them was fun."
Of the family's different palates, McGrady said: "Princess Diana is on the healthy eating and William and Harry are on sort of the comfort foods. The young princes' favorite meals included spaghetti and meatballs, cottage pie, banana flans, banana ice cream, burgers, mixed grills, chicken and cream chicken sauce, and the occasional sticky toffee pudding. They loved pizza and potato skins stuffed with mozzarella. They were also partial to some fish fingers. They were royal children but they still had children's palates."
Princess Diana, though, left the cooking to McGrady. The former royal chef remembered a time Princess Diana and a friend tried to make dinner themselves. He said: "The spaghetti boiled over and it put the pilot light out. They cleared away. She could smell gas. Monday morning, she came into the kitchen. She said: 'Darren, you won’t believe I nearly set the whole palace on fire, but you know the best part? I had 12 hunky firemen all to myself.'"
On Princess Diana's favorite meal, McGrady said: "I used to leave her stuffed bell peppers and stuffed eggplant with a yellow post-it note with the number two for the microwave setting because she couldn’t cook. Her all-time favorite was the bread and butter pudding, but she only had it in small portions. I'd also parboil potatoes and toss in egg whites and paprika. She'd cut out the fat so it was always poached chicken, no skin, no fatty potatoes." He added: "Princess Diana was intent on avoiding red meat unless she was having special guests round for dinner and stuck to a low-carbohydrate diet. She was an extremely healthy eater who avoided carbs at all cost. She'd tell me: 'You take care of the fats, I'll take care of the carbs at the gym.' Dishes like tomato mousse which she really liked, she'd say: 'Make me a fat-free version.'"
Princess Diana was keen not to let her super healthy dietary habits influence the young princes, instead tricking them into thinking they were eating the same thing. He said: "We used to trick the boys. We used to feed them roast potatoes and roast chicken but take the skin off. She wasn't strict at all. She let them be boys, young boys. There was always a battle between her and nanny. Nanny would say: 'No, they're eating their dinner, they're having cabbage,' and the princess would say: 'No, if they're with me and they want loaded potato skins and fried chicken then they can have that. And if they don't eat it and they still want pudding, they can have that too!' She was much more relaxed than nanny. They could have chocolate, there weren't special treats because if the boys were home, the princess wanted to spoil them."
When William and Harry were home, the trio would sit down for dinner at 6:30pm. McGrady said: "The food was actually put on the sideboard and they just go and help themselves, as opposed to in Buckingham Palace where they're served each course. But when the princess was home alone, she'd eat at the kitchen table, at the dining room or she'd have a tray in front of the TV. She didn't do dinners for two reasons; she liked an early night, she used to get up at six, seven in the morning. She didn't like going across to Buckingham Palace for the big dinner parties because they went on too late. And also she said: 'I can't invite men back for dinner because the media would find out and then I'm in real trouble, all sorts of things happen. So whenever I do an event or a charity do or have a friend round, I have to have them for lunch.'"
While McGrady admits that he never thought of himself as a friend but rather the chef, he did develop a natural bond with the late princess. He said: "I was always there, so sometimes she'd come in and vent about things she wasn't happy with. Other times I'd see her just burst into tears and it was like: 'What do I say? What do I do?' Other times she told a dirty, risqué joke and you think, 'I can't believe Princess Diana just said that!' I was just honoured to be in the right place at the right time and watch William and Harry grow up."
After Princess Diana's tragic death, McGrady made the decision to move to Dallas, where he now works as a private chef and freelances at corporate and charity events. He published a book, Eating Royally, which features some of the recipes he made for Princess Diana and her family.
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Royal Personal Chef Darren McGrady With A Portrait Signed By His Employer; Diana Princess Of Wales