April 20, 2009 12:00 PM

Call it Paul McCartney’s Love Tour—with special guest Nancy Shevell. For more than a year, the former Beatle, 66, has been all over the globe (Paris, Los Angeles, Tel Aviv) with his girlfriend on his arm and a smile on his face. The latest stop: New York City, where Shevell, 49, kept McCartney and his kids James, 31, and Mary, 39, company backstage at an April 4 concert for the David Lynch Foundation. Five days earlier the couple went to an event honoring his designer daughter Stella, 37, where Shevell (dressed in pieces from Stella’s collection) received a noteworthy seal of approval: a kiss hello from Stella. Says a fashion insider: “She’s thrilled for her father.”

McCartney is likely just as elated. During his six-year marriage to Heather Mills, which cost him $48.6 million in a divorce settlement last year, he was plagued by rumors that his children—particularly Stella—didn’t approve of his wife. “Having gone through a difficult period, he’s in a much better place,” says a source close to the singer. “He’s very happy.” Even Mills tells People she’s glad for him. “Who doesn’t move on in life?” she asks, adding that while she hasn’t met Shevell yet, Beatrice, 5 (her daughter with McCartney), “likes her.”

Shevell, an executive at her family’s New Jersey-based trucking company (see box), began winning over the McCartney family during the summer of 2007, when she and Paul casually started seeing each other in the Hamptons. (They both have homes there, but because of his 50-50 custody arrangement with Mills, McCartney spends most days in London.) Despite their 17-year age difference, friends say they’re a perfect match. “They have the right chemistry. They’re both cool, chilled out and optimistic,” says the close source, who calls them “very positive, laid-back people.” Shevell also bears striking similarities to the love of McCartney’s life, Linda: Like his first wife, Nancy is an outdoorsy East Coaster who attended college in Arizona and battled breast cancer in the mid-’90s—a battle Linda lost in 1998. Says a source who recently saw Shevell with McCartney in London: “It’s a pity he didn’t meet her [sooner].”

Though the couple haven’t spoken out about each other, their mutual affection is obvious, whether hand in hand in the Hamptons or acting like what one observer calls “little schoolkids.” An example? In L.A. for February’s Grammy Awards, the pair cracked each other up while off to visit jeweler Neil Lane. “After Paul locked the car, the horn accidentally honked,” says a witness. “He pretended to be startled while Nancy burst into laughter.” When they reached the shop, “he was still goofing around as she struggled to compose herself.”

On March 23, however, a photo of the giddy pair at a London play opening caused problems for Shevell: She is on the board of New York City’s Metropolitan Transit Authority, which had a committee meeting in Manhattan that day. She didn’t endear herself to New York City subway riders either after voting for a 25 percent fare hike on March 25, but she has charmed many others. “I love her,” McCartney pal Rosanna Arquette (who was briefly linked to the singer in 2007) told PEOPLE in February. “She’s a very kind, courageous person,” says Geri Barish, president and executive director of Hewlett House, a nonprofit cancer resource center Shevell and her ex-husband Bruce Blakeman helped found, where a tree planted in Linda McCartney’s memory stands. “No matter what stature she has, she’s an everyday, ordinary gal.”

The British press may be eager for McCartney to make Shevell officially his gal (engagement rumors pop up regularly), but it’s unclear whether he’ll wed a third time. Says an old pal: “He doesn’t feel obliged to marry, and the family isn’t expecting it.” But as journalist Ray Connolly, who has written about McCartney and the Beatles since the ’60s, points out, “He’s always been a family man.” As for Shevell, “Nancy feels very lucky to have him in her life,” says a close source. “I’m sure she’s thinking marriage eventually, but she’s enjoying the moment for now.”

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