The discreet charm of Lady McCartney
12 Oct 2011
It was a long way from a chance meeting in a parking lot in East Hampton, New York in 2007 to a wedding celebration in front of the world's press at Old Marylebone Town Hall in London on Sunday.
But you would have not have guessed this from the demure smile and quietly elegant demeanor of Nancy Shevell McCartney, 51 - the new Lady McCartney - as she and her husband Sir Paul, 69, stood before cameras to receive the cheers of well-wishers gathered outside. Sir Paul, characteristically, was more effusive. "I feel absolutely wonderful," he said. He's used to the cameras - he has, after all, been in the limelight most of his life.
His wife seemed a little less comfortable with all the attention, although she looked radiant with her tall lean figure shown off perfectly in a cream above-the-knee dress designed by her new daughter-in-law, Stella. Oh, and then there was the five-carat, vintage 1925 Cartier solitaire diamond engagement ring, said to have cost £400,000; it's a ring that has been much commented on - partly, of course, for its value but more for what it symbolises: a real love match this time around for the thrice-married Sir Paul.
The new Lady McCartney's quiet confidence is her trademark in New York, although few people other than the fellow board members of New York's Port Authority on which she sits really know her.
"No one in New York society had ever heard of her really before she was with Paul," says one New York society queen. "She had some money, yes - but it was from a trucking business that moved garbage in New Jersey. She didn't move in New York's social set - and once she started dating him, yes, the people in Manhattan met her, but she was quiet: when people chatted to her socially, they didn't feel they got to know her - not in a bad way. You just got the sense she was happy being who she was. She didn't want to be part of the New York merry-go-round."
Her obvious happiness at remaining below the media radar is in stark contrast to Sir Paul's second wife, Heather Mills. (The marriage is widely considered to have been a disaster.)
Unlike Mills - who talks regularly to the media and appeared semi-clad in a skiing shoot for Hello! earlier this year - Shevell has turned down offers from Vogue magazine and pretty much every interview request. She leaves her second cousin, the television anchor Barbara Walters, 82, to do the talking for her. It was Walters, considered in America to be one of the wisest, classiest and toughest women around, who "ran" the romance.
There were reports here that Walters held dinners for Shevell and McCartney so they could meet interesting people; Walters has said that she and Shevell are "very close". She reportedly kept the romance on track when it was ropey at one point. Shevell, after all, is not the most beautiful woman in Sir Paul's acquaintance. Julia Roberts is known to be a huge fan, for example. That's tough competition.
"Nancy is not a classic beauty - but that figure! With that hair!" says someone who knows her. "Even though she's not considered the most elegant dresser, the figure is just unbelievable …"
Shevell is down to earth - she has never attempted to airbrush her wealthy but somewhat scrappy background and wasn't afraid to pretend it was anything other than what it was. Her father Myron runs a large haulage company, and in 1975 he and his brother Daniel were charged with, but not tried for, fraud for alleged involvement with the Mafia. They were forced to sell the company and went bankrupt. The New York Observer has reported that the same year Nancy's uncle Daniel, 39, shot himself. Myron had to start again. But there were more problems and in 1988 Myron was barred for five years from engaging in union negotiations after allegations (not proved) that he'd made illegal payments in an attempt to skirt union rules.
Nancy studied so she could go into the business, marrying businessman Bruce Blakeman, now a failed Republican candidate for the US Senate. They had a son Arlen, now 19.
Ms Shevell kept her maiden name and worked for her father's firm. She earned a reputation as someone not to be messed with and in 2001 New York's former Republican governor, George Pataki, put her on the board of the NYPA - where she has stayed for 10 years. "Not just anyone sits on the Port Authority Board," says a source in local government. "You have to have clout and you have to know what you are doing."
The romance with McCartney started while she was legally separated from her husband when she ran into the musician in a car park. They had first met 20 years before. The pair started dating but kept the romance secret.Over at the NYPA it was noted that Shevell missed a few meetings, possibly due to the relationship, but the board were said to overlook it because Shevell is well-liked and humble - she had often talked about how she travelled regularly on the bus.
And with Sir Paul she was equally unassuming. She paid for her flights to be with him in England. "She definitely paid for her side of the romance," says one person who saw the whole thing evolve. Shevell divorced Blakeman, who speaks charitably of both her and Sir Paul. "She is a great mother and he is nice to my son," he said.
Surprisingly, perhaps, despite her investment in the romance and her love for Sir Paul, sources say Shevell never thought he would marry her: "The last thing she expected was the wedding. She was fully gearing up to be known as Sir Paul's ex-girlfriend."
Yet a wedding is what she has got. His children are said to like her very much. And Walters, one of the 30 guests at the wedding, is said to be elated. "Nancy struggled in life," she told the New York Observer. In 2008 her brother Jon died of a drug overdose.
Now, friends of the McCartneys say, their life will most likely be quiet and low-key. Which is how they both like it. "She's quiet - but actually so is he. There will be no sturm und drang this time around."
Which makes for a very refreshing beginning - and ending.