"No, this isn't quite right," says Sara Parker Bowles. "I'll have to change." She darts back to the bedroom of the Claridge's suite where our shoot is set up to change out of a zebra print pencil skirt and back into her original outfit: a loose, semi-boho dress jazzed up with Jimmy Choos. Parker Bowles is surprisingly fidgety in front of the camera.
"I hate being photographed," she says, settling back down on a piano stool. "I'm usually where you are, behind the camera, directing."
Parker Bowles has been squirming in the spotlight since 2004, when she began dating Tom Parker Bowles, the food writer and son of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. Their wedding a year later was besieged by paparazzi, an experience she found "quite nerve-racking, actually".
She enjoyed picking a dress - by Alexander McQueen - and celebrating with family and friends after the ceremony, but admits: "I definitely had quite a few panic attacks before the day. It's lovely to have all of that attention, but having everybody dissecting what you look like, what you're wearing - it's quite a strange thing." Luckily the paps no longer bother her young family - she has a daughter, Lola, 6, and son, Freddy, 4. "I think we're just too boring for them now!" she says, laughing. "Once you settle down and have kids, the focus switches."
The Duchess of Cambridge might beg to differ. Still, Parker Bowles's royal connections are resolutely low key. "Recently, Tom's mother took me and my sister-in-law, Laura, and the kids to see The Lion King, and then we just went back to have tea at Clarence House. They're completely relaxed, the whole network of people who work in the household team are very welcoming," she says. The Duchess of Cornwall sounds like a hands-on grandmother, regularly whipping up roast dinners and scrambled eggs for the family.
"Tom's mother is just not a very formal person," she says, decisively. Of the Duchess of Cambridge, she will only say: "We've talked about designers we admire in the past and she's always very complimentary about what I wear but, clearly, she feels she's got more important things to think about - and that's what makes her so endearing."
Parker Bowles has never courted the press; instead, she has spent her career working within it. She has flitted between magazines since her early 20s, beginning at the now-defunct health magazine GQ Active as an editorial assistant, then taking a job as PA to Alexandra Shulman, the editor of British Vogue, when GQ Active became inactive.
She claims she was the worst PA in the world. "Justine Picardie, who was deputy editor of Vogue at the time, totally saved me and took me into the features fold," she laughs.
Today, she works for Picardie as associate editor of Harper's Bazaar, and senior editor of Town & Country magazine, the UK edition of which launched in May. "It's a really old American publication, this is the first British issue, so it's been exciting to work on something completely new," she says.
Her wardrobe bears the hallmarks of all those years in glossies: she's toting the requisite Céline trio handbag and slips into Isabel Marant sandals once the photographer has coaxed a smile out of her.
She is an authority on skinny jeans, sheepishly admitting to owning between 15 and 20 pairs and reeling off her favourites without pausing for breath: Hudson, MiH, Frame and J Brand's Seventies-inspired Love Story style. Recently she's fallen back on a tried-and-tested formula of white shirts and black blazers. Shirts are slim-fitting, with a collar - her favourites are from Equipment, Ann Demeulemeester and Christopher Kane - and blazers are tuxedo-style, from the Olsen twins' brand The Row or its lower-priced little sister line, Elizabeth and James.
Cat ear fascinator, £395, Maison Michel; brownsfashion.com ; Chameleon eye pencil, £19, Charlotte Tilbury; net-a-porter.com ;
She could give a whole lecture series on shoes, such is the breadth of her knowledge. She's a whizz at sample sales, snapping up high-heeled bargains from Manolo Blahnik, Jimmy Choo and Charlotte Olympia. Her fail-safe smart shoes are a pair of Tabitha Simmons kitten-heel slingbacks; but when she's running around town she opts for trainers, invariably Adidas Gazelles, because although she wishes she could bop around in Nike hi-tops, "I just don't think they suit me".
This is a frequent refrain: Parker Bowles is no slave to it-items. A Louboutin court, for instance, "looks a bit prissy on me", and while she likes looser, boyfriend jeans, "that look doesn't suit my shape". Also barred are this season's ankle-skimming maxi coats ("I'm too short") and jumpsuits. "As much as I almost always wear what I want, I just know Tom wouldn't really like me in a jumpsuit," she says, sighing.
She trusts Tom implicitly, especially when it comes to restaurants. "He's a total food addict," she smiles, citing Covent Garden's Barrafina (10 Adelaide Street, London WC1N 4HZ; 020 7440 1450) and Janetira, a tiny Thai restaurant in Soho (28 Brewer Street, London W1F 0SR; 020 7434 3777) as her new favourite London haunts. She leaves the cooking to him. "I'm not a good cook at all, annoyingly. Although I made a ragù bolognese using one of Tom's recipes the other day, and I was gobsmacked that it was actually quite nice and my children were eating it." Does it go the other way in terms of wardrobe advice? "I wouldn't dream of it," she cries, before pausing. "But sometimes I make small suggestions…"
Best shops for childrenswear?
My six-year-old daughter and I have arguments all the time because she's got such sweet clothes and all she wants to wear are tracksuit bottoms. I Love Gorgeous and Stella McCartney Kids are good for special-occasion dresses, so I wait for the sale and buy them a few sizes too big. H&M is great for more casual things, and my mother-in-law does a twice-yearly Boden buy-up for the children - it's great for reasonably priced staples.
Fitness class discovery?
I do ballet with Everybody Ballet, a company founded by a former soloist with the Royal Ballet called Isabel McMeekan. I've tried that Pineapple thing before and it was just humiliating, but this has the intelligence and aestheticism of ballet with the stretching of Pilates (taster classes from £20; everybodyballet.com) I've always loved that off-duty dancer look so I wear sweats from Freddy .
Best tailor in town?
I spend a lot of money tailoring things. I always go to these amazing Japanese ladies I discovered years ago, they're now based in Battersea. An added bonus is that they are total opera buffs (Couturière; 020 7223 339).
Top grooming tips?
I get my nails done by a Brazilian woman called Nubia Silvia, she's brilliant, affordable and comes to you (07920 103585); I visit Carly Argent on Harley Street for Dermaroller treatments (07983 634384); and Charlotte Tilbury's colour chameleon eye pencil (above) is fantastic for green eyes.Also Read:andyprom.co.uk | little black dresses