Princess Diana's death in 1997 came a shock to royal fans the world over, but it was her family, friends and staff that were hit the hardest. As her 20th death anniversary approaches, Diana's former head chef Darren McGrady recalls the moment he learnt the Princess had died. He had been at home, ready to go into work on the Monday to prepare the meals and cook for Prince William and Harry, who were due to come home following a summer in Balmoral.
In an exclusive interview with HELLO! Online, Darren recalls: "I knew it was going to be a super exciting time because the boys were coming home from Balmoral – they'd race up and down the corridors – so it was going to be a fun time. I'd got up in the morning, turned on the TV and saw the news. They were saying the Princess had died. I couldn't believe it. It was a real shock. I flicked through all the channels. I called Wendy my wife upstairs and said, 'They're saying the boss has died.'
"I called the palace and I couldn't get through – all the lines were engaged. And so I went into work and took the food with me that I was going to do for dinner the next day, because I couldn't accept that she was gone. It was a real shock.
"Her apartments eight and nine were on lockdown so no one was allowed in. I went into the office next door and that's when the girls were all in tears. The next week I was in the palace but there was no cooking. It was just tidying up things and throwing out food because we weren't going to be using the palace again. It was just awful."
Darren added: "Right until the funeral I'd go in every day just to be there. Seeing the flowers out the front getting higher and higher and seeing all the people. It was a horrible memory. I got to go and spend time alone with the Princess in the Chapel Royal. Each of the staff members got a chance to do that – that was nice. Come the funeral we all went to the Abbey. Her personal staff actually lined up outside the front door to say goodbye to her for the very last time as she left Kensington Palace."
On Princes William and Harry walking behind their mother's coffin at the funeral procession, Darren added: "I said at the time, that should never have happened. The Princess would have been horrified had she known that. It's just awful. There's no reason to make a 12-year-old boy walk behind his mum's coffin with people crying."
Darren, who is releasing his second cookbook The Royal Chef at Home, worked for Diana for four years at Kensington Palace. Before that he cooked for the Queen at Buckingham Palace for 11 years. After the Princess' sudden death, Darren decided to relocate to the US. "I never believe in going backwards," he said. "I just felt, there I was, the Head Chef to Princess Diana – the most photographed woman in the world. I loved what I was doing, the interactions every day with her when she'd come into the kitchen and the guests she'd have over, whether it was Elton John or George Michael. Just to go back to being one of 20 chefs at Buckingham Palace, I thought, 'No I don't want to do that.'
"Princess Diana always used to say – I don't know if she was joking or not – she'd say, 'Darren we need to move to America.' I put out my resume and got offered a job in Dallas as a private chef and so I took that and spent the next 18 years as a private chef, and then recently I started my own catering company."
Darren's second cookbookThe Royal Chef at Home: Easy Seasonal Entertaining is out on 1 November 2017.