Everything the Queen and the rest of the royal family eats at Christmas

'They're actually boring when it comes to festivities,’ says former royal chef Darren McGrady

Sophie Gallagher
Saturday 25 December 2021 08:23

The royal household seems designed for extraordinary Christmas celebrations: numerous palaces to house giant Norwegian fir trees, banquet halls to lay on a five-course turkey dinner and staff to help with the washing up. But how do the royals actually celebrate?

For the last three decades, the family have celebrated the festive season at the Sandringham estate in Norfolk, with generations of the royals descending for a festive lunch and to attend mass with Her Majesty on Christmas morning.

In 2020, the Queen spent Christmas in tier 4 at Windsor castle and was prevented from having any guests, aside from a potential support bubble. This year, the Queen’s first Christmas without Prince Philip, a celebration at Sandringham should be on the cards once again.

During the 1960s royal Christmases were routinely celebrated at the Berkshire castle but, since 1988, when the property was being rewired, the firm returned to Sandringham.

What does the Queen eat and drink at Christmas?

Darren McGrady was the Queen’s personal chef for 15 years, accompanying her on two royal tours of Australia and cooking for five American Presidents. McGrady also worked for other members of the royal family – including Princess Diana, and her sons William and Harry.

In a series of YouTube videos and interviews since leaving the royal household, McGrady has opened up about life in the royal kitchen. McGrady previously told Hello! magazine that the biggest food event at the palace is Christmas.  

The royals tend to keep it traditional - with a classic turkey rather than other meats. “It was the same meal every year,” McGrady said. “They're actually boring when it comes to festivities. They didn't do hams or anything, just traditional turkeys.

The royals at Christmas mass, with Princess Diana and the Queen Mother

“We did three turkeys for the Queen and her family in the royal dining room, one for the children's nursery and then more for the 100 or so staff, so everyone had a Christmas lunch.”

In terms of trying out new festive dishes, royal chefs are under strict instructions not to use strong flavours, such as garlic and onion, as the Queen does not like them, says McGrady. “The Queen doesn't like garlic... we could never use it at Buckingham Palace.” 

For dessert on 25 December, the Christmas pudding would be “decorated in holly, doused in brandy, and the palace steward would carry it, flaming, into the royal dining room”. 

The Queen’s Christmas message, 2019

Although fond of the festivities, the Queen reportedly only eats small portions - even at Christmas. McGrady has previously said the 95-year-old prefers to have four smaller mealtimes throughout the day. 

Paul Burrell, formerly the Queen’s footman and then Princess Diana’s butler, confirmed this on The Secret podcast with Vicky Pattison. He said: “[The Queen] only ever eats very little portions. She doesn’t eat a Christmas dinner like we do where it is piled high and you can’t see each other across the table.”

To drink, the Queen’s favourite tipple is known to be a gin and Dubonnet or a flute of champagne.

Does the Queen help with cooking?

McGrady says in one of his videos that the Queen does not cook for herself but that Prince Philip was an “amazing chef” and regularly enjoyed cooking on the grill and having family BBQs on the Balmoral estate.

He also described how the younger royals like William, Kate, Meghan and Harry, all enjoy cooking, while the Queen herself stays out of the kitchen.

But, Mr Burrell says, the Queen does “like to wash up”. “She puts on the marigolds and when she goes out to the log cabin at Balmoral she is stood there with her marigolds on and she washes up and the lady in waiting dries,” he explained.

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