Buckingham Palace Cook Reveals Princess Diana’s Surprising Food Preferences

Almost 30 years after her passing, the world still dearly misses Princess Diana. As such, her steadfast adorers have spent the past few decades absorbing as many details of her life as they can. Although this can lend itself to explorations of her most private secrets, other details are more clearly shared in a search for the true personality of the woman they loved.

And whether they were looking for it or not, one place Diana's famous warmth and unpretentious compassion came out was in her conversations with her personal chef. Of course, those looking to indulge their curiosity about what Diana ate won't be disappointed either. There's just one meal that he'll never reveal to anyone.

Darren McGrady knows all about eating royally

Darren McGrady.08.27.2007. Darren McGrady, former personal chef of Princess Diana, was in Toronto, M
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Chef Darren McGrady owns a catering company called Eating Royally, and he did not choose that name lightly. In fact, he had 15 years of experience cooking for the British Royal Family. In that time, he learned all about their eating habits.

As he told ABC News, he cooked for Queen Elizabeth II for 11 years before Princess Diana invited him to become her personal chef after she and Prince Charles separated. And he happily filled that role during the final four years of her life.

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How it all started

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According to The Daily Mail, McGrady was tasked to feed the Queen's animals before he had an opportunity to cook for anyone else in the Royal Family. One of the first things he did during these early days was peeling carrots for the horses at Scotland's Balmoral Castle.

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But this period also saw him prepare food for the Queen's dozen corgis, which usually consisted of rabbit and liver. McGrady would mix these meats into the dog's bowls with cabbage and rice.

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A regimented schedule

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In an interview with Tatler Asia, McGrady described Queen Elizabeth as a disciplined eater once he had graduated to cooking for her. This didn't just mean that she ate healthily and controlled her portions but also that all her meals were planned and approved in advance.

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In McGrady's words, "For the Queen, we would do three-day menus. When you open the book, it will have lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner, with two choices for each course. She would put a line through the one she didn't want. If she were out for dinner, she would be put a line through the page."

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She was carb counting before everyone did it

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As McGrady told Women's Wear Daily, Queen Elizabeth ate four small meals a day that largely consisted of lean proteins and vegetables. For instance, a typical lunch would consist of grilled fish and salad with no potatoes.

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He also told Tatler Asia that the Queen's menu included dishes that had been made in the family for over a hundred years, with one example being Supreme of Halibut Queen Victoria. As the name would suggest, this was served during Queen Victoria's reign but apparently stood the test of time for Queen Elizabeth.

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She did have a sweet tooth

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As disciplined and fussy as the Queen could be — McGrady told The Daily Mail that she detested strong flavors like garlic or onions — that didn't stop her from having a sweet tooth. And there was one easy way to make his desserts a surefire hit with the Queen.

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Just add chocolate. As McGrady shared with Women's Wear Daily, Queen Elizabeth adored chocolate and made it one of the only snacks she'd allow herself outside of meals. She had a particular love for chocolate biscuit cake but generally loved the food enough to give it up for Lent.

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When she complained, she did it quietly

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Although Queen Elizabeth lived a life of luxury, that didn't mean she was wasteful. McGrady told Women's Wear Daily that when a chef garnished one meal with a full lemon, the Queen had it sent back so it could be used in a future dish.

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When the Queen didn't like something, she didn't lodge a direct complaint with her kitchen. Instead, McGrady told The Daily Mail that she used to make a note about it in a desktop notebook when she didn't want something served again.

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A breath of fresh air

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Although McGrady was able to handle the 11 years he spent cooking for Queen Elizabeth starting in 1982, his favorite period during his time cooking for the Royal Family started in 1993. That's when Princess Diana convinced him to become her personal chef, which blossomed into a genuine friendship between them.

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As McGrady told ABC News, "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. Always remembered birthdays."

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A recent change in her life

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By the time McGrady accepted Princess Diana's offer, she had recently overcome an eating disorder. As he told Delish, this journey led her to focus on eating healthy and requesting fat-free meals regardless of what her family was served. As he recalled her saying, "You take care of the fats; I'll take care of the carbs at the gym."

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But as challenging as her relationship with food may have been, McGrady said it was more loving than it appeared. In his words, "If any misconception, it was that the Princess didn't like food. She did! She conquered that bulimia, and she got her life back on track."

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She preferred more casual dining

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McGrady told HuffPost that Princess Diana preferred eating at round tables of ten people over the Royal Family's usual penchant for grand banquets. This allowed her to engage everyone she sat with in conversation, and when nobody was around, she would take her lunch at the kitchen counter and talk with McGrady as he cleaned up.

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McGrady said the other royals would never be caught doing that and that Kensington Palace felt more like a typical family home than a royal manor when she was there. By contrast, all kitchen staff would have to stop what they were doing, take three paces back, and bow whenever the Queen entered the kitchen at Buckingham Palace.

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Diana could talk to McGrady for hours

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Although McGrady told Business Insider that he remembered to address Diana as "Your Royal Highness" during her long conversations with him, she always had a more casual, friendly approach. As he told it, it wasn't unusual for her to burst into the kitchen and say, "I need a coffee. I'll make it. I'll make you one."

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As he told Us Weekly, she would sit on the freezer or elsewhere around the kitchen and talk about anything from the plays she had seen to gossiping about the other royals. And while he was nervous about hearing sensitive information, it was hard to stay that way for long. As McGrady put it, "She was just so relaxed in the kitchen whenever she came to see us. She was so relaxed and made us feel relaxed too."

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Diana needed a personal chef

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Although Princess Diana was a down-to-earth person in many ways, one thing she had in common with many at her societal station was that she was hopeless as a cook. As McGrady told HuffPost, "She was just the worst, a terrible person in the kitchen." On weekends, McGrady pre-emptively left instructions on meals in the fridge that told her the exact number of minutes she'd need to enter into the microwave.

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This was necessary because one time, she tried to cook pasta for a friend only for the overflowing water to extinguish the pilot light. She smelled gas and got worried enough to call the fire department, which is why she later told McGrady, "Darren, you won't believe the weekend. I nearly set the whole palace on fire!" True to her likable nature, she said her favorite part of the episode was having 12 hunky firemen to herself.

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The Queen's strategy didn't work for Diana

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McGrady told Tatler Asia that he had similar menu boards for Princess Diana that he had for the Queen, but he soon found that they were completely useless. That's because she was not only much more casual than the Queen but also followed her whims far more about what she wanted than her regimented mother-in-law.

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In McGrady's words, "I would say it's lobster thermidor—which is also on the Genting World Dream menu—and she said, 'Oh, lobster. I could eat some chicken.' 'Ok, then it's chicken tonight.' Changed all the time, there was no point in preparing in advance!"

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What did Diana actually eat?

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Although it was clear that Princess Diana ate healthily and did so under much less regimented circumstances than the Queen, McGrady also shared some specifics about what food he typically prepared for her. And considering where she was in life, it's not surprising.

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She would forgo red meats in favor of lean proteins like chicken or fish. That was when she ate meat at all, as she requested about as many vegetarian dishes as she did anything featuring poultry or seafood.

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She didn't subject her kids to her diet

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Even when she had roughly the same thing as the rest of her family, Princess Diana's dish was always prepared a little differently. And as McGrady recalled, it was out of consciousness that what she was comfortable eating wasn't necessarily what her children would enjoy.

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For example, when McGrady made roast chicken and potatoes, Prince William and Prince Harry would get what he described as "The kind that you bite into and oil just runs down your chin." By contrast, Princess Diana would have poached chicken and dry bake potatoes.

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A favorite that he's shown the world

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One of the recipes that McGrady featured in his Eating Royally: Recipes And Remembrances From The Palace Kitchen was for stuffed bell peppers, a dish he often cooked for Princess Diana. And those peppers were stuffed with more than it may sound.

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As Business Insider outlined, the peppers were stuffed with various vegetables and herbs, as well as smoked bacon, chicken bouillon, and both mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. They may have been healthy, but that didn't come at the cost of heartiness.

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Diana was a grazer

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Although McGrady was diligent about preparing meals for Princess Diana, her long chats with him in the kitchen often saw her grazing on little snacks throughout, which were usually fruit. Sometimes, she would be a little sneaky about it.

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As HuffPost mentioned, one dessert McGrady cooked was made with raisins, and Princess Diana had a habit of sneaking into the kitchen and picking the raisins off the dish to nibble on them. After all, his back was often turned during their conversations.

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Diana had a bit of a sweet tooth as well

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Although Princess Diana was committed to healthy eating, she wasn't any more immune to a good dessert than any other member of the Royal Family. And McGrady had a couple of specialties in this department that she loved more than anything.

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As he told Tatler Asia, one of them was the bread and butter pudding that she used to pick the raisins out of. It's often described as a cross between bread pudding and crème brûlée, and McGrady serves it with salted caramel sauce and ice cream.

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Diana was a culinary prankster too

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Although Princess Diana had a way of saving the more delectable and fattening dishes for her children, this courtesy extended to her other house guests. And in one case, that courtesy came as a secret prank on a very special guest with a similar history of dieting.

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As McGrady told HuffPost, the princess once dined on tomato mousse with Oprah Winfrey, who asked her how she could maintain her figure while eating rich dishes like that. Although Princess Diana said she just worked out and controlled her portions, the truth is that she had secretly had McGrady make her a fat-free version without the cream, mayonnaise, and sour cream and served Oprah the richer version. As McGrady said, "Diana never did tell her the truth."

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Princess Diana's awkward dinners with the Queen

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As Yahoo! Movies reported, another of Princess Diana's favorite desserts was crepe soufflé, which McGrady often made while he was still working at Buckingham Palace. It was also here that the princess first developed her habit of wandering into the kitchen and chatting with him.

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As McGrady told it, she had tried the dessert while she was dining with Queen Elizabeth but was too intimidated by the monarch to ask for seconds in front of her. So instead, she made her way to the kitchen and made her request there before discussing Les Misérables and The Phantom Of The Opera.

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Even back then, McGrady was looking out for her.

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McGrady said that he had anticipated this reaction and said he had to "fight off all the other chefs from digging in" so there would be some crepe soufflé left for Princess Diana. While that was already nice enough, he had a more subtle way of showing how much he cared about her. As he had previously mentioned, McGrady prepared lunch menus for the Queen's approval days in advance, and she'd pick one of two options for each course.

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When Princess Diana was going to eat at Buckingham Palace, he was always sure to pair the crepe soufflé with a dessert option he figured the Queen wouldn't like as much. In McGrady's words, "It worked every time, so the princess got her crepe soufflé when she came to visit the Queen."

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He was fond of the children as well

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McGrady was also very much a part of Prince William and Prince Harry's lives when they were growing up, and in Harry's case, that was true from the very beginning. In one moment he recalled for Tatler Asia, McGrady was able to hold the prince in his infancy while Diana enjoyed a bowl of cereal during one of her kitchen chats.

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The children's experience at Kensington Palace was also much more like a standard (if wealthy) family home life than many of the royals would have been used to. McGrady told ABC News that Princess Diana would let them eat in front of the TV and — as he told Tatler Asia — didn't mind taking them to McDonald's so they could get Happy Meal toys.

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He could always tell when they were there

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Since Princess Diana and Prince Charles were separated by the time McGrady became her chef, the royals co-parented their children. This meant they weren't always at Kensington Palace, but he could always hear loud voices in the upstairs nursery when they were.

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As he told ABC News, "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." And while the McDonald's trip he recalled had him protesting that he could make a better burger, Princess Diana was aware that the burger wasn't the point for the kids.

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Diana was a mom who understood

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As McGrady told Women's Wear Daily, the children's nanny was very much against him feeding the young princes unhealthy foods such as pizza and loaded potato skins. However, he often went against her wishes and let them indulge in these foods anyway.

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Of course, this was because he already knew how Princess Diana would react after hearing about what her children had been eating. And he was right. As he put it, "The Princess just wanted them to be boys."

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A feast fit for future kings

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In contrast to their mother's lean cuisine, McGrady described the diet he fed Prince William and Prince Harry as comfort food. This diet included the kid favorites one might expect, such as pizza, chicken tenders, spaghetti and meatballs, and hamburgers.

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However, there were aspects of their diets that with more understandably British origins as well. In addition to the Disneyland fare listed here, they enjoyed cottage pies, banana flans, and could occasionally be convinced to eat some sticky toffee pudding.

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There was some common ground

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Although it's true that Princess Diana largely ate different meals than her children — even if some of them were fat-free versions of a similar meal — there was one thing their diets had in common. The children had inherited the family sweet tooth.

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Yes, it seems the young princes had tastes in desserts similar to their mother's. Although one might expect them to share grandma's chocolatey tastes, their favorite desserts were banana caramel cakes and McGrady's famous bread and butter pudding. McGrady told Tatler Asia that Diana called his bread and butter pudding the best in the world, and it seems the kids agreed.

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McGrady spent a lot of time with the kids

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As McGrady told Tatler Asia, Princess Diana wasn't the only one who often seemed to be drawn to his kitchen. It was pretty common for the young princes to find their way in there as well. Although they often came in in their mother's company, that wasn't always the case.

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They obviously came in when they were hungry, but they were just as likely to do it when they were bored or playing hide-and-seek with each other. In McGrady's words, "Watching Princess Diana interact with her boys and watching them grow up, it feels like you're part of their family, even though you're not because you go into their inner sanctuary."

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Prince Harry once gave the chef a cooking tip

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Even as young children, the boys' status as royals made them fairly well-traveled. And when they came back from a trip to Walt Disney World, they brought a little piece of American cuisine with them. Rather, Prince Harry did when he requested breakfast upon his return. At first, he simply asked for bacon, which McGrady obliged.

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However, the prince then instructed the chef to put the bacon on a paper towel and stick it in the microwave for a minute. McGrady was taken aback, but Prince Harry explained his reasoning. As McGrady recounted, "This is little Harry telling me how to cook, and he said, 'When we were at Disney World, they do bacon so crispy it snaps!"

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However, Harry probably learned more from McGrady

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McGrady told Tatler Asia that one of the most common foods the young princes ate on weekends was the roast chicken dish with potatoes mentioned earlier. So, when Prince Harry shared that he had cooked roast chicken for Meghan Markle on the night he proposed to her, the chef had only one response.

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In his words, "I was like, 'Woah, I taught you to cook that!' He was in the kitchen all the time and used to watch me put the chicken in. I hope it was as good as mine. It must have been since she said yes!"

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Prince William remembered McGrady's cooking too

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Whether Prince Harry remembered what inspired that fateful meal or not, it was clear that Prince William has vivid memories of how he used to eat at Kensington Palace and Buckingham Palace. McGrady told ABC News that William once said he wanted to be a police motorcyclist, to which the chef replied that the Royal Family had other plans for him.

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Yet once those plans were closer on the horizon for the future king, he commemorated his childhood with a grand tradition during his wedding to Kate Middleton. For his groom cake, William chose his grandmother's favorite straight from McGrady's cookbook: The Chocolate Biscuit Cake.

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Prince Philip's tastes

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That cake came from McGrady's time as a Buckingham Palace chef, where he became familiar with the tastes of all the core royals at the time. And while it's likely that many of them would have struggled to scare up a substantial dinner without their royal chefs, McGrady mentioned one major exception during his years there.

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Speaking to Women's Wear Daily, he referred to Prince Philip as a serious foodie. An example he mentioned was the late royal's penchant for cooking venison tenderloins whenever his family was staying at Balmoral Castle. However, he wasn't the only royal with a passion for food.

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King Charles expanded the royal palate

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Although McGrady told Women's Wear Daily that King Charles was an early adopter of organic food and loved growing it in his gardens, that's not the only way he moved the Royal Family's palate beyond traditional French and British cuisine.

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Speaking to Tatler Asia, McGrady credited Charles with the gradual embrace of Italian food among the royals. Although the Queen had particular tastes, her son was able to get some pasta and risotto dishes added to the menu. McGrady said Charles used to go mushroom hunting at Balmoral Castle and loved using them to make a wild mushroom risotto.

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The night it all changed

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Although some of McGrady's favorite years cooking were spent in Kensington Palace, those happy days as Princess Diana's chef and confidant came to a sudden, tragic end on August 31, 1997. As The Daily Mail reported, that was when a car driven by Henri Paul (pictured) crashed into a pillar under the Alma bridge in Paris.

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Neither Princess Diana nor her companion Dodi Fayed nor Paul himself would survive the accident. As McGrady told the newspaper, "I was there; I had the food for dinner waiting for her to return. It was a horrible, horrible time."

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One secret McGrady will never tell

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Naturally, that sorrowful night still attracts solemn reflection today. However, the sadly ironic media frenzy at the time and the incident's continued press attention in the decades since have also inspired no end of morbid curiosity. And that curiosity has inspired some usually unfounded theories.

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However, even those who aren't searching for conspiratorial connections often can't help but obsess over the night's details. Yet, anyone who wants McGrady to share what Princess Diana would have eaten that night will be disappointed. He refused to share those details with Women's Wear Daily, saying, "I always consider that the negative side."

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The end of an era

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Although McGrady had cooked for the Royal Family for 15 years by the time of Princess Diana's death, that event brought it all to a halt. Not only did he leave their employ, but he also left the U.K. entirely.

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As he told Tatler Asia, McGrady settled in Dallas, Texas, where he has lived for over 25 years. For most of that time, he's been running his Eating Royally catering firm. Yet, that's not the only way he's kept busy since his time in the palaces.

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A wealth of culinary knowledge

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Since his exit from Kensington Palace, McGrady has also written two cookbooks that feature some of the recipes he used for both Queen Elizabeth and Princess Diana's meals. However, he had been in business for almost a decade by the time the first one came out.

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After McGrady released Eating Royally: Recipes And Remembrances From A Palace Kitchen in 2007, Women's Wear Daily reported that his second book hit shelves on August 1, 2017. It's called The Royal Chef at Home: Easy Seasons Entertaining.

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A loving gesture

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For McGrady, the aftermath of Princess Diana's passing has been complicated. While it's heartening to see that someone he cared deeply for remains alive in so many people's hearts, he's also conscious of the more ghoulish interests some have about the circumstances of her death.

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As he made clear to Women's Wear Daily, he wasn't interested in exploiting her memory when he wrote his reflective cookbook. Instead, he said he donated the advance and royalties of Eating Royally: Recipes and Remembrances From A Palace Kitchen to her charity.

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Memories of a compassionate princess

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As he told ABC News, McGrady fondly remembered witnessing firsthand the compassionate spirit that Princess Diana was known for. One particular moment of note saw her spontaneously ask him to go to the department store Harrods to bring back 50 blankets.

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As the chef explained, "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."

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A new venture

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According to The Daily Mail, McGrady grew unimpressed enough with the fish and chips he encountered in American restaurants to start his own food truck brand. As he put it, "There are too many British pubs here that buy in frozen, ready-battered thin pieces of pollock which snaps when it's fried."

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However, he's been happy to see that his true-to-home approach to the popular dish has been a hit with locals. As he said, "You know you're doing something good when ex-pats praise the curry sauce. We even have one customer who comes seven times a week to eat fish, chips, and peas, which is delicious but admittedly not very healthy!"

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A nostalgic name

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McGrady's food truck service is called Winston's British Fish 'N’ Chips, and The Daily Mail reported that it launched its first van in a church parking lot in Vancouver, Washington. However, those who aren't long-time followers of McGrady may be a little confused by the name. Who's Winston?

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Well, in addition to his catering company and cookbooks, McGrady has also kept an active YouTube channel since 2020. In it, he goes by The Royal Chef, and his videos often feature a stuffed animal named Winston the Corgi. After being the channel's mascot for three years, Winston is now also the namesake for his newest venture.

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Thinking of Diana

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McGrady made it clear to The Daily Mail that even after all these years, it's hard for him not to ponder how much Princess Diana would like his new business. As he said, "Diana would have thought I was crazy launching a fish and chip van but would have loved the idea."

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Of course, that doesn't mean that he thinks she'd be terribly likely as a regular customer. In his words, "She'd have said, 'Oh no, Darren, that will go straight to my hips!'"