Hollywood's been royally fawning over Kristen Stewart's portrayal of Princess Diana — and just about everything else about the new movie Spencer — while the Twitterverse and some critics haven't been as impressed (this reviewer called it "absurd").
Did Stewart get the princess' voice right? Did the director take too many liberties with the truth about her eating disorder or her marriage? Was the queen's house really that cold? (And the queen herself, for that matter?)
While everyone may have an opinion, there are few who can opine with authority — and one is Darren McGrady. The chef and cookbook author was, in fact, a royal chef to the British Royal Family and then served as Princess Diana's personal chef until her death in 1991. He was there, at Sandringham House, over Christmas 1991 — the time and place depicted in Spencer. He's even a prominent character in the movie, portrayed by Sean Harris.
It's full of spoilers about the film, so avert your eyes and bookmark this page for later if you still plan to see it. Otherwise, read on for some select highlights of movie vs. reality, according to the Royal Chef:
On Kristen Stewart's portrayal of Princess Diana: "Kristen Stewart is amazing as the princess, with her mannerisms and her voice ... the happy scenes of her with the boys, it was like her coming alive again. For real, Kristen Stewart played an amazing part."
On Princess Diana driving her own Porsche in the movie: "I don't think she even had a Porsche. She used to drive a Mercedes. I remember when she got her first Mercedes and one of the team said to her, 'Your Royal Highness, a German car for a British princess?' Quick as a flash, she said, 'Well they're a lot more reliable than German husbands.'" (The Windsors have German roots.)
On Princess Diana asking Darren if "they'll" kill her (meaning the royal family): "She never did say to me, 'Will they kill me,' though she did say to me once at Kensington Palace when she asked me to fill up her car with gas, 'Watch the breaks, I think someone's been tampering with them.' She said that with a wry laugh."
On the movie's depiction of Diana's eating disorder and mental state: "The bulimia? It did happen. That was an understatement. The princess was struggling. The movie is painstakingly rich in detail and emotion and impression, but I do think they exaggerated her mental state a lot, for artistic license, I guess."
On the depiction of the Royal Family's treatment of Diana: "I don't want people to come away thinking the Royal Family just didn't care at all. The dining room was right next to the kitchen in real life at Sandringham, and I often could hear the princess laughing out loud — she had this infectious laughter — and I don't want people to come away thinking the Royal Family were cold in this. They weren't, there were lots and lots of happy times there."
On the military transporting food into the kitchen, and the food itself: "Partly true. But we used to get most of our food from the local purveyors in Norfolk. But the army was used to transport all of our kitchen equipment there ... the Sandringham kitchen was an empty shell when we arrived. Did they get the royal food right for Christmas? In the movie, they show enough food to feed a cruise ship. We only had five chefs at Sandringham; we'd have been working through the night to get that amount of food done. Everyone weighing themselves on scales when they arrived and left?" (He shakes his head "no.")
That's just the start. McGrady weighs in on ghosts at Sandringham, what really happens to leftover pheasants after a shoot, whether the princess actually did escape to the beach, and much more.
Watch his entire video here: