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Behind The Palace Doors – Fiona Burton

Behind The Palace Doors Fiona Burton
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‘Harry doesn’t want to be tied down to royalty’:
Prince Harry ‘was always’ going to ‘break free’ from royal life,
patisserie chef says

  • Former royal patisserie chef Fiona Burton takes us behind the palace doors during her time at Windsor Castle
  • Fiona - who worked in the pastry kitchen for 12 months - lifts the lid on their favourite desserts, Prince William and Harry’s relationship and memorable moments living amongst the famous family

Fiona Burton was only 20 years old when she landed the life-changing opportunity to work for the UK royal family as a royal patisserie chef in Windsor Castle.

Speaking exclusively to Slingo, Fiona opens up on her time with the famous family, her encounters with the ‘comical’ Prince Philip, her thoughts on The Crown and why she believes Prince Harry ‘was always’ going to ‘break free’ from royal life.

How did you first get your job as a patisserie chef?

“At the time I was working in France and I got a call asking if I would be interested. My name had been put forward by a previous lecturer from when I was studying. I obviously said yes, but it didn’t really hit home for a while because it took a couple of months for them to get back in touch with me. They explained the whole thing and it wasn’t until then that I realised the actual interview was to work for the Queen, the Queen’s Mother and the royals.

“I was between Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. I probably spent 75% of my time at Windsor Castle compared to Buckingham. I went to Buckingham when there were large functions, but I mainly stayed at Windsor, which is where the Queen’s Mother had her 100th birthday celebrations. She loved Windsor Castle.”


What did your job entail?

“I was a royal pastry chef, so there was a team of me and two others in the pastry kitchen. As I was the youngest, I was the first one in the kitchen. I would be up doing breakfast items, which included scones, croissants and tarts. I would then do all the prep for lunch. We made everything for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and the evening dessert.”


Do you have any memories of Prince Philip?

“I really liked him. He had that comical side to him and he was very friendly. The way he would talk to the chefs and even myself felt like he was interested and wanted to listen. He spent most of the time going into the main kitchen because he was talking to the chef about steak and how he liked his steak to be cooked. But when he did come into the pastry kitchen, he was interested in what we were making, it wasn’t necessarily requests for anything. At that point, that’s when you’re allowed to engage and acknowledge. That was pretty special because he was the one out of all [of the royals] that ever came down and wandered around. He was the one who would actually talk to us.”


Did Prince William and Harry ever make an appearance in the kitchen?

“They’re a similar age to me, I think they’re about the same age. I’m 42 so they’re a couple years younger. It’s a similar age, but even then we would call them the kids, even though I was round about their age. They were really pleasant and liked coming into the pastry kitchen, which many people do with it being sweets. That’s where I developed one of my recipes, which is the chewy cookies, which was for them for their afternoon teas. I’ve developed it even further moving on from there. They were always pleasant.”

Were Prince William and Harry always together?

“I saw them together and I saw them come down separately. Just because one royal is in residence, it doesn’t mean that everyone is. There are certain times or they would come on their own. You might only have the Queen there or you might have the Queen and everyone else there. It really depends on what's happening.”


Was Harry the cheeky one of the brothers?

“He was the one who would laugh the most. He was a bit comical and always reminded me of his grandad.”


Do you have any funny memories of the brothers joking around?

“I wouldn’t say a funny memory. It was not as if they were messing or joking around because they were still adults. I always got the sense they don’t have that, like I was with my brother where we would be fooling around. They’re not brought up in that type of environment. It doesn’t matter if they were visiting staff or out there in front of the public, that’s how they behaved. You couldn’t go up and have a joke with them. That wouldn’t go down well. But they were pleasant and nice and always seemed relaxed and relaxed with each other.”


What funny stories did you have from your time at the Palace?

“I can’t really say too much because there’s things we had to sign. I can’t divulge too much, but there were certain plates that we had to use for service, so it was bronze in the morning, silver for lunch and gold at night. It was one of my duties to go and collect them and polish them. I met the Corgis one day when I was leaving the castle. The butlers came running up after them because they’d managed to escape, but I managed to touch one of them and give them a pat. That was lovely. I didn’t see them [the royals] walking around in their nightgowns because everything was guarded.”

Behind The Palace Doors – Grant Harrold

Behind The Palace Doors – Grant Harrold

What do you make about the constant rumours surrounding the family?

“I don’t read them and I don’t believe them. I think a lot of things are made up and I know if I was working there, I’d feel like that. I know a lot have jumped on the bandwagon and I don’t think a lot of it is true.”


What is your take on The Crown? Is it a true representation of the royal family?

“I’ve never watched it and everyone is really shocked by that. I don’t need to watch it because I’ve worked for them. It’s the same within my industry when people expect me to watch all the big cooking shows and I don’t. It’s not a true representation of what really happens. Whatever The Crown is and the bits that I have heard, unless it’s actually the royal family writing it, it’s not going to be true. Most of the time it would be boring to watch.”


Are their lives a lot simpler than what they appear to be on The Crown?

“To be born in that environment, they won’t have known any different. When you're in it, for me, it’s not entertaining all the time. They have a lot of jobs to do that are not necessarily interesting and they can’t wake up one morning and say they don’t feel like doing it. They can’t do anything like that. They can’t just go to the movies or go and get a coffee with their friend. They can’t do anything like that and it’s all very restricted. As much as the two boys are trying to change it, they still can’t go down to their local Costa and have a coffee and not have their security around them - it’s a surreal world. Growing up as girls you want to be a princess, but the reality is it wouldn’t be as good as the lives we freely live now. That’s because of the Queen and that’s why we are able to live as free as we are.”


Are they very guarded?

“I don’t think they would know they are being guarded. They are taught to be a certain way, talk a certain way and act a certain way. I guess we are to an extent with our parents, but in a more free way. We have choices and we can make our own decisions eventually. I don’t think they can. I think if you look at where Harry is now, he’s wanted to break free from that. He wants to go down the road for a coffee with his family and do all them things, and that’s what Diana fought against. She wanted that freedom for herself and sons, but she made the choice of marrying into royalty. She made the choice, but the boys didn’t make that choice and they have to conform to that or upset the entire world.”


How did you feel when you saw Harry leaving the royal family?

“I think it was always going to happen with Harry, to be honest. He was always the one who would rebel growing up and in the tabloids. I do wonder if things were done on purpose and I wouldn’t know if that was true. It didn’t surprise me because out of all of them he was going to be the one who would try and break free. I don’t think it’s got anything to do with who he has married. That’s him and he’s got a strong streak in him that has this independence and doesn’t want to be tied down to royalty, whereas his brother is completely different. William is more like his dad.”


Were there any protocols working for the royal family?

“The protocols were pretty strict. Everytime we left we had to go through security checks. At the time mobile phones were only just coming out, so we weren’t allowed phones or cameras in the castle. It was also quite strict between the teams, so you had catering, maids and butlers. We weren't allowed to meet up, so everything was pretty strict. It was just to keep the teams separate. We all had different levels of security. Your main aim there was to serve the royals, it wasn’t to entertain and have parties.”


Did you receive any training before starting your job?

“When I first arrived there they gave us an induction training. When I turned up to Buckingham, I had quite a lot of paperwork I had to go through to understand not just what the role was, how to act or if we came face-to-face with a royal member. The main things were that when they did come down to the kitchen, we weren’t to acknowledge them. We weren’t allowed to stop and stare at them, we had to carry on with our work. It’s almost like not acknowledging them until they acknowledge us. I had to learn how to curtsy properly in case I ever came across them. If they ever came down, we were given the heads up. There were definite protocols over how we conducted ourselves.

“I don’t think I understood the specialness of it all, if I’m honest. I was really young and it was only until the Queen Mother’s birthday that I realised the magnitude of it all. I wasn’t particularly starstruck at that time, but I was when I saw the Queen. I saw her walking down to the church and she looked straight at me. That was the point when I turned into a royalist.”

Behind The Palace Doors – Steven Kaye

Behind The Palace Doors – Steven Kaye

Did the Queen have a special presence?

“Yes, definitely. There was a lot of respect for her and you could feel it in the air.”


What happened at the Queen Mother’s birthday and how were you involved?

“There was a big lead up to it. We knew we would have 300 guests, which isn’t much compared to the people I’ve served since then. She had it at Windsor Castle and the rooms are not particularly huge, so I’m guessing she wanted a small affair. It was really about coming up with the right dessert for her and something that would stand and be as brilliant as it would be leaving the kitchen until when it was in front of her. The pastry chefs, who had been working there for a long time, knew what flavours she liked, which were cherry and more of the old fashioned desserts, such as a steady mousse. In the end, that’s what we went with, so it was nice and refreshing. There were no tinned fruits and everything was fresh.

“There was a massive buzz around the whole kitchen area. We had our own room because pastry kitchens have to be a lot cooler. It was so slick, the whole thing from start to finish. I have never worked in that environment, where everyone knew what they had to do and where to be. It was smooth as anything and it didn’t feel stressful. It was more exciting than anything.”


Did any of the royals thank you personally on the day?

“Neither the Queen Mother or the Queen came down, but we got letters saying how grateful they were for what we made. That went on for the duration of my stay there. I guess it’s like working for someone and getting that well done. The one royal who did come down a lot was Prince Philip, who was a regular in the kitchen.”


Did you come across King Charles whilst working?

“I did, yeah. In fact, he did a visit down to the kitchen, which is where I got to pratice my curtsy. It was after the Queen Mother’s birthday and he came down to say thank you on her behalf. She was 100 years old and couldn’t walk far. She had to get the car from the entrance of Windsor to the church, which isn’t really far but she was very old. He came down and thanked us, which was really nice.”


Did the royals have any preferences in terms of food?

“The Queen’s Mother liked her scones, which is why I always had to do scones in the morning. Sometimes she requested some without fruit or with. The Queen liked tarts and anything with a pastry bass. I used to make quite a lot of biscuits, which is where the cookies came in for the younger children. There were always desserts, which were mainly old fashioned. We weren’t mixing flavours like we were now and the fruit, they loved their fruit. It was the most beautiful fruit. I have never seen anything like it in my life. There was always lots of fresh fruit.”


What fond memories do you have from your time working in the pastry kitchen?

“Just being able to go from the kitchen in Windsor Castle with the breakfast food, down these halls where the maids station was and smelling lavender as I walked through. Whenever I smell lavender, I always think of going down those corridors because that’s all you could smell. Then going into the big areas, like where the Queen Mother had her birthday and seeing the huge rooms. You’re going into areas the public aren’t able to go in.”


Were any of the royals fussy eaters?

“No, funnily enough they weren’t! There were no vegetarians, gluten free or vegans! It was all quite easy in that sense. They just had their preferred likes and I don’t really remember there being any dislikes. It wasn’t that everyday was the same - it certainly wasn’t. It was depending on who was there what we made.”


What food did Prince William and Harry like?

“They liked all sorts of biscuits, cookies and chocolate - nothing unusual or different. We knew they were in residence when we would make more of the cookie and biscuit styles. They liked their afternoon tea.”


What about King Charles?

“There was always a selection, but it was classic things like cream teas, tarts and fruits.”


Would you ever like to work for the royals again?

“Yeah. When I finished there, I came to Australia on a holiday because I didn’t have any breaks when I was there - you're there and your contract is to be there. I came to Australia for a holiday and while I was there, I received a letter from Buckingham Palace for an interview at Kensington, but I was here and they wouldn’t rearrange the interview and I missed out. There was no doubt I would have got it.”


Has working in Windsor Castle made you think differently of the royal family now?

“Yes. When you’re born in the UK, you don’t really think about them much growing up. Obviously there were certain events that happened, like Diana and her marriage with Prince Charles, but you just get on with it. When you work for them and see the whole setup, you do have a different respect and understanding for them. When it was announced the Queen had passed away, it was really upsetting and I didn’t think it would choke me like it did. I don’t know what it will be like now.”


How has the monarchy changed overtime?

“I don’t think it’s as strict as it was 20 years ago. I think there’s more of a relaxed attitude and they’ve knocked their walls down a little bit and let their walls down to the likes of the public. They’ve definitely become more relatable and I’ve seen that overtime.”


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