What Princess Diana's Chef Really Thought of Her Eating Disorder

Princess Diana visits a community center in Brixton. | Princess Diana Archive/Getty Images

There’s a lot to say regarding the “people’s princess,” especially when it comes to her troubled marriage, mental health woes, and her infectious way of bonding with the public. She wasn’t just a figure of royalty — she proved that the royals weren’t so different from the commoners who looked up to them. And even after Princess Diana’s tragic passing, we remember her for her philanthropic efforts and ease around the general public.

Princess Diana had many dark secrets, of course — and many of them surrounded her eating disorder. TIME reminds us she dealt with bulimia, which she discussed in interviews later unveiled by Andrew Morton in his 1992 book, Diana: Her True Story. During the interviews, she also explained that the bulimia was “a symptom of what was going on in my marriage.”

Diana spoke at length regarding her illness, too, which was quite a bold move at the time. In a 1995 interview with the BBC, she said she’d return from engagements “feeling pretty empty,” which would prompt her to binge and purge. “You inflict it upon yourself because your self-esteem is at a low ebb, and you don’t think you’re worthy or valuable,” she said. “You fill your stomach up four or five times a day — some do it more — and it gives you a feeling of comfort.” Diana also mentioned several times her troubling marriage was a huge trigger for her bulimia.

While Diana spoke publically about her issues, more women also sought treatment for eating disorders in Great Britain. And since the entire public was listening to Diana discuss her disorder, they weren’t lost on one very important person, either: her personal chef.

Darren McGrady, Diana’s personal chef, said she ate the healthiest of all the royals

From 1993 until her death in 1997, Darren McGrady was Diana’s chef — though he didn’t start out as the top cook at Buckingham Palace. According to USA Today, McGrady started off as the chef cooking frozen vegetables for the palace staff, and that’s it. But as time went on, Diana became friendly with McGrady. And when she separated from Prince Charles, she called him to ask if he would be her personal chef in Kensington Palace, which he accepted.

While the food at Buckingham Palace was reportedly traditionally French (lots of heavy cream sauces and butter), McGrady says Diana kept things light. WWD reports he said she avoided all red meats and mostly wanted just chicken, fish, and vegetarian options for her meals. While the queen was also a very disciplined eater, Diana’s meals were consistently the healthiest of the group’s. She always let her children, Prince Harry and Prince William, eat unhealthily, though (think pizza and loaded potato skins).

Diana conquered her bulimia by the time McGrady moved to Kensington Palace

Darren McGrady, the chef for the royal family, attends BritWeek’s 10th Anniversary VIP Reception and Gala at Fairmont Hotel | Randy Shropshire/Stringer/Getty Images

McGrady mentioned to USA Today that by the time he moved to Kensington Palace, Diana had “gotten her life back on track,” and that included her bulimia. Since her marriage was a huge trigger for her eating disorder, separating from Prince Charles provided her with relief for her mental health. And McGrady said she wanted to eat well, telling him, “I want you to take care of all the fats, and I’ll take care of the carbs at the gym.”

The chef was faced with plenty of obstacles while cooking for Diana, too, as she wanted everything to be as healthy and fat-free as possible. He recalls one time when Diana asked him to make her a classic tomato mousse he once made for Ronald Reagan, but he told her it goes against her dietary restrictions, as it contained loads of fats. To that, she simply requested that he make a fat-free version, which excited him to try.

He laughs now about this one truth regarding Diana

McGrady can talk very seriously about the royal family — but he also mentions that Diana was an absolutely terrible cook. The Huffington Post reports he called her “the worst, a terrible person in the kitchen.” He would even leave her food to nuke in the microwave on the weekends, with instructions on the exact amount of time to heat it for.

She was also no stranger to tricking the public when needed. While eating lunch with Oprah Winfrey once, they were both served the same dish from McGrady — his famous tomato mousse. Oprah was served the full-fat version while Diana had her fat-free one, though she made it seem like they were eating the same dish. And when Oprah questioned how Diana stays thin eating these rich, royal foods, she lied and said she just eats small portions and exercises. “Diana never did tell her the truth,” McGrady adds.

McGrady says talking about her eating disorder really isn’t his place

The chef shares plenty about what he personally noticed with Diana’s eating habits — but he’s also extremely respectful of her privacy. In regards to her bulimia, he told USA Today that by the time he was cooking for her, “she had confronted it and gotten help,” so it didn’t make much of a difference in regards to their relationship. “I was there as a chef only, and it wasn’t my job to give her advice,” he said.

McGrady also insists that he never noticed any binging or purging activity. Diana mainly aimed for health during her stay at Kensington Palace, and he notes that “she looked the best she ever did” while he was serving her as well. He also notes that while she ate plenty of salads, she also had a soft spot for his bread-and-butter pudding, which is a good sign she was well on her way to recovery.

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