On November 16 hundreds of bulbs flashed as the beautiful 29-year-old Kate Middleton, elegantly clad in a royal blue V-neck dress, gently placed her arm into the nook of Prince William’s and ever so coyly flashed his mother’s sapphire ring for the world to see. Finally, after eight years together, the two were announcing they were going to marry. Those who looked on couldn’t help but feel the stir of memories of an equally eventful engagement some 28 years beforehand—that of Diana Frances Spencer and Prince Charles. What seemed like a fairytale coming true—the Prince of Wales in love with an alluring, young commoner—in time would play out to be anything but “happily ever after.”
For Dallasite Darren McGrady, the recent royal engagement brought back memories close to his heart. As he heard the news along with the rest of the world, he was particularly overcome with happiness for the prince. McGrady last remembered William as a young teenage boy, with his head dropped, mourning a love lost in his life. Now he was older, happier, celebrating the love of his life. McGrady isn’t one of the faceless followers of the royal family who never gets closer than the pages of gossip magazines. He really knows them. In fact, up until Princess Diana’s death in August 1997, McGrady worked as Diana’s personal chef. After the tragic car accident, McGrady made the decision to move to Dallas, where he now works as a private chef and freelances at corporate and charity events. His book, Eating Royally, features some of the recipes he made for Diana and her family. As he eagerly anticipates the upcoming nuptials on April 29, McGrady talked with TEXAS MONTHLY about what it was like being with the royal family.
How and why did you end up working for the royal family?
I was at the Savoy Hotel, working as a chef, during the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana. [My family and I] slept outside Buckingham Palace with the 600,000 other people the day of the wedding. I realized then that I wanted a job working in the royal kitchen. I applied, and not long after that, I got accepted to work there. I started as chef number twenty of twenty. But really, it goes back even further. As an eleven-year-old schoolboy on a Saturday morning, I and everyone else in the U.K. gathered around and watched Princess Anne’s wedding. All of that pageantry made me want to be a part of a royal wedding.
How did you end up working for Princess Diana?
I spent eleven years in the royal kitchen and saw 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 Charles separated, she asked if I would be her chef.
What was Princess Diana’s favorite meal?
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 Diana couldn’t cook. Her all-time favorite was the bread and butter pudding, but she only had it in small portions. It’s like a cross between bread pudding and crème brûlée.
What is a royal wedding cake?
They serve fruitcake. It’s a five-tiered cake, and they keep the top tier for the christening. That’s a normal English wedding. Prince Andrew had 40 wedding cakes. Diana had 23, but Prince William is going to have one. The economy isn’t doing well, so they are making an effort to be frugal.
How is the menu chosen for a royal wedding?
The menu is approved by the queen. Four different menus are sent to the queen, and she picks which one to serve.
What are some of the differences between a Texas wedding and an English wedding?
I haven’t been to a Texas wedding. I so want to go. I’ve been here for thirteen years. Someone please invite me.
What was Prince William’s favorite dish?
I tell people that the cottage pie was Prince William’s favorite. Whenever he would come home for the weekend he would ask for that and banana flan. But he is older now, and his tastes may have changed.
What are your thoughts on the upcoming wedding?
I’m thrilled they are having it at Westminster Abbey. Last time I saw Prince William, he was saying good-bye to woman he loved, and now he is walking down the aisle with the woman he loves. This is the year Princess Diana would have turned fifty, and I know she will be looking down on him.