Darren Mc­grady

Head Chef to the Bri­tish monar­chy for 15 years, Darren MC­GRADY dishes out de­tails about the roy­als’ eat­ing habits — in­clud­ing those of the Queen’s 12 cor­gis.

Prestige (Singapore) - - CONTENTS - By hil­lary kang

he’s cooked for Queen El­iz­a­beth II for 11 years, served as Princess Diana’s per­sonal chef for four, and en­ter­tained five dif­fer­ent US Pres­i­dents. But Darren Mc­grady has clearly met his match in a steam­ing bowl of laksa.

He’s per­spir­ing, and it’s not just be­cause of the swel­ter­ing heat at the Sin­ga­pore Polo Club. “I love vis­it­ing coun­tries I’ve never been and try­ing new foods,” says Mc­grady, as he de­ter­minedly clamps a pair of chop­sticks in his hand. “This one’s a bit spicy, but I’ll bat­tle through it!”

In town to host an ex­clu­sive din­ner at the in­au­gu­ral Bri­tish Expo, Mc­grady has a wealth of ex­pe­ri­ence from 15 years of work­ing for the Bri­tish royal fam­ily. Lis­ten to his ac­cent, how­ever, and you wouldn’t be able to guess the 56-year-old is a born and bred Bri­ton — his dis­tinctly South­ern twang is the re­sult of hav­ing lived the last 20 years in Texas.

Mc­grady’s cui­sine, none­the­less, re­mains de­cid­edly Bri­tish. On the menu for the week­end are fa­mil­iar Bri­tish sta­ples such as Gaelic Steak — a favourite of the Queen — and an unas­sum­ing bread-and-but­ter pud­ding.

Be­fore he be­came Head Chef with the roy­als, Mc­grady was just like any other Bri­ton. The night be­fore the wed­ding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana in 1981, he’d slept out­side Buck­ing­ham Palace in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the event. It was out­side th­ese gates that Mc­grady re­alised he wanted to be a chef for the royal fam­ily.

When he re­turned home, Mc­grady, who was then work­ing as a chef de par­tie at Lon­don’s pres­ti­gious Savoy Ho­tel, im­me­di­ately ap­plied to be a chef at the Palace. He got the job, and two weeks later found him­self as “chef 20 out of 20” in the royal kitchens. Mc­grady rock­eted through the ranks to land the cov­eted spot of head chef to Queen El­iz­a­beth II.

In his ten­ure, Mc­grady spent his time serv­ing a litany of no­bil­ity at grand balls and ex­trav­a­gant soirees — in­clud­ing of course, the Queen’s le­gion of 12 Pem­broke Welsh Cor­gis. “They got their own weekly menu, but you had to be re­ally care­ful when cook­ing for cor­gis. We diced the meat brunoise-style, so there were no bones — you wouldn’t want to choke the Queen’s cor­gis!” Mc­grady laughs.

After Princess Diana sep­a­rated from Prince Charles, she re­quested that he be her chef at Kens­ing­ton Palace, where she resided till her death in 1997. Mc­grady likens the dif­fer­ence to “night and day”. Here, celebri­ties, ac­tors, and fash­ion de­sign­ers were fa­mil­iar faces in the din­ing room — after one lun­cheon, Diana brought Gianni Ver­sace, George Michael and El­ton John into the kitchen to meet Mc­grady — as was the Princess eat­ing break­fast in his kitchen.

“I even held Prince Harry as a baby while Princess Diana was eat­ing ce­real at the counter,” says Mc­grady. “I was lit­er­ally hold­ing the crown jewels in my hands!”

Per­haps un­sur­pris­ingly, Princess Diana’s ap­proach to her sons’ meals was much more re­laxed. “The Princess loved the boys. She wanted them to re­ally be chil­dren, and not be princes,” says Mc­grady. “If they didn’t want to eat their veg­eta­bles and skip straight to dessert, she didn’t care. They were princes, but they still had chil­dren’ palates.”

Just a week be­fore the Bri­tish Expo, the world watched as Prince Harry wed Meghan Markle, an out­sider in the world of roy­als, like how Princess Diana her­self was. “I chopped veg­eta­bles for Prince Harry as a baby, so watch­ing him get mar­ried is very mov­ing,” says Mc­grady. “Meghan joins the fam­ily at the same age that Princess Diana left it, at 36, so it’s all quite bit­ter­sweet.”

Though Mc­grady no longer works with the royal fam­ily, there’s no lack of ex­cite­ment in his life. He started a cater­ing com­pany, Eat­ing Roy­ally, after mov­ing to Dal­las, where he cooks for pri­vate clients and events. Be­sides ex­pand­ing his culi­nary reper­toire and in­tro­duc­ing a plethora of cuisines to the Texan gour­mand scene, Mc­grady is a keen phi­lan­thropist — roy­al­ties for his first cook­book, also called Eat­ing Roy­ally, went to char­ity. Much of his free time is spent on causes Diana sup­ported. Mc­grady of­ten holds char­ity events at shel­ters for abused women and or­gan­i­sa­tions that sup­port chil­dren with chronic ill­nesses.

“I never used to be char­i­ta­ble un­til I met Princess Diana. Then I saw the dif­fer­ence I could make in peo­ple’s lives just by giv­ing up a lit­tle bit of time,” says Mc­grady.

His most mem­o­rable mo­ment in Kens­ing­ton Palace oc­curred in June 1997, sev­eral months be­fore Diana’s death. She had auc­tioned off 79 dresses for char­ity at Christie’s New York and wanted to share the news with Mc­grady.

“I re­mem­ber her com­ing into the kitchen a day after the auc­tion, hold­ing a piece of pa­per. She said to me, ‘ Darren, look at how much money I’ve made for char­ity just by sell­ing a few of my old dresses’,” he says with a pause. “I thought I’d meet her one day and say, ‘ Your High­ness, look at how much money I’ve made for char­ity just by sell­ing some of my old recipes’.”

princess diana wanted her sons to grow up like “chil­dren, not princes”, says mc­grady

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