The Queen's former chef says living in Buckingham Palace was just like 'Downton Abbey'
- The Queen's former chef Darren McGrady compared living in Buckingham Palace to "Downton Abbey" — but also said it was like living in a hotel.
- McGrady, who was a live-in chef at the London residence for 11 years, told Insider that the male and female staff quarters were segregated, and you could get "in serious trouble" if you were caught breaking the rules.
- The chef also said the 775-room palace had many luxuries, including three-course lunches, a housemaid making your bed each morning — and sometimes, even discos with Princess Diana and Fergie.
The Queen's former chef Darren McGrady said living in Buckingham Palace was just like "Downton Abbey" because the male and female staff quarters were segregated.
McGrady was a live-in chef at the Queen's London residence from 1982 until 1993, before moving to Kensington Palace to cook for Princess Diana and Princes William and Harry until 1997.
The chef, who now resides in Dallas, Texas, spoke to Insider about his experience living and traveling with the royal family.
McGrady compared palace life to 'Downton Abbey' — but also says it was like living in a hotel
"I had a room at the palace. When I lived there, it was roomed very much like a show called 'Downtown Abbey,'" McGrady told Insider.
"We had the male kitchen wing, the female kitchen wing, the footmen's floor, the housemaids' floor, and you weren't allowed on the different floors.
"If you were a chef or a footman and you were trying to sneak up to the housemaids' floor and you got caught, you were in serious trouble. Everyone was segregated, it was the done thing.
"We were part of the Victorian era. You couldn't even begin to imagine single males and single females being on the same floor together," he added.
And that wasn't the only rule staff had to follow. According to McGrady, those who lived at the palace were allowed to have guests come and visit, but they weren't allowed to stay overnight and were required to leave the premises by 10 p.m.
McGrady isn't the only former staff member to make comparisons to the British drama series. Princess Diana's former butler, Paul Burrell, once said: "If you multiply 'Downton' by 100, that's Buckingham Palace," according to The Mirror.
"The TV people should do a series, 'Downstairs at the Palace,' it would be phenomenal," he added.
"It's a village, a world of its own … the cherry on the cake is Her Majesty at the top of it all."
Residing in the Queen's London home — which has 775 rooms in total — was also like living in a hotel, according to McGrady.
"Being a servant there, we had our own room but you never even made your own bed in the morning. Each floor had its own cleaning lady that would come in and make the beds, change the towels, give you soap," the former royal chef said.
"It was like a hotel, an institution. You can see why people stayed there for 30 years or more, because you were given everything you needed. What you were paid was just pocket money," he added.
Along with a free cooked breakfast, a three-course lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner, McGrady said the staff had their own bar — where the drinks were "hugely discounted" — a snooker room, and a dining room for the chefs.
However, he said palace life is likely not the same these days, since many of the staff living quarters were converted to offices several years ago.
Princess Diana and Fergie once gatecrashed a staff party
Another perk of working for the Queen, of course, was exclusive access to the royal household social club.
Whenever the staff would travel to the Queen's holiday estates (Windsor, Balmoral, and Sandringham) they would organize group activities including discos, bingo nights, fancy dress parties, and ceilidhs (traditional Scottish dance).
Sometimes, these events were even gatecrashed by the royals themselves.
"We had discos, and I was the resident DJ," McGrady said.
"We had so much fun. Once I was spinning the discs at Balmoral, and Princess Diana and Fergie came down, they heard the noise and music and came down to see what it was. One of the footmen, I think, invited them jokingly.
"They only stayed a few minutes, but I spun the discs!"
The Queen also got involved in the festivities every now and then.
"We arranged a ceilidh, with a local band once every trip [to Balmoral]," McGrady added.
"Once a trip there'd be a fancy dress [party] where the Queen would come down and judge, so the royal family really got involved with these things."
The chefs weren't allowed to serve the Queen garlic
He also gives cooking tutorials to his 27, 800 subscribers on YouTube.
If you want to learn to cook to the royal standard, McGrady said "there's a big difference between cooking at a restaurant and cooking for the Queen."
"You can get some amazing chefs, Michelin star chefs with great egos, who won't even put salt and pepper on the table because they say it's seasoned to perfection.
"Well, when you move to Buckingham Palace, everything is how the Queen likes it. It doesn't matter if you think it needs more salt, or cream, you cook it how the Queen likes it. It's not about how the chefs want to prepare it," he said.
As for the Queen's go-to dishes, McGrady says anything that involves using local produce is a must. Meanwhile, garlic was the only ingredient that the chefs were not allowed to use.
"One of the things about cooking for the royal family, especially the Queen, is that she liked indigenous produce," McGrady said.
"When she was up at Balmoral, she loved to eat local produce and would get excited about anything off the estate, the berries the vegetables, or anything from the gardens. The deer, the salmon from the River Dee.
"The chef's job was to enhance that amazing produce."
He added: "They were pretty open on trying new ingredients, but no garlic — that was the big no-no."