LONDON — A hint of autumnal Beatlemania was in the air Sunday as Paul McCartney — for the second time in his improbable life — climbed the steps of Old Marylebone Town Hall to get married.
True, thousands of heartbroken female fans crowded the venerable registry office in 1969 when he married Linda Eastman and only a few hundred showed up Sunday as he wed American Nancy Shevell. But the feeling this time was not regret at the loss of a bachelor heartthrob. Instead there was joy that McCartney, regarded as a national treasure, seemed happy again.
McCartney shared his joy with the crowd, raising his bride’s hand in triumph as he walked down the steps after they became husband and wife at a simple civil ceremony attended by close family and friends, including drummer Ringo Starr and TV journalist Barbara Walters, a second cousin of the bride.
“I feel absolutely wonderful,” McCartney told fans as he arrived back at his house after the ceremony.
Gone was the memory of McCartney’s terribly unhappy marriage to model Heather Mills, which ended in 2008 in an ugly public divorce. Instead, the venue brought back memories of his marriage to Eastman, a serene union that lasted nearly three decades until Eastman’s life was cut short by breast cancer.
The wedding ceremony Sunday afternoon was everything his wedding to Mills was not: simple, understated, almost matter-of-fact. By contrast, McCartney and Mills married in an over-the-top lavish ceremony at a remote Irish castle that was disrupted several times by news helicopters flying overhead hoping for a glimpse of the A-list guests.
Shevell, 51, appeared radiant and composed in an elegant, ivory gown cut just above the knee. She wore a white flower in her long dark hair, and only light makeup and lipstick.
The dress was designed by McCartney’s daughter, Stella, a star in the fashion world who also helped concoct the three-course vegetarian feast served to guests at the reception at McCartney’s house in St. John’s Wood, a property he bought in 1965, when the Beatles were regularly topping the charts.
McCartney, who has casually admitted to tinting his hair to keep out the gray, looked youthful in a well-cut blue suit and pale blue, skinny tie.
The affection — and confetti — showered on McCartney and his bride after the ceremony captured his particular place in British life.
Long gone are the days when the Beatles divided Britain between young and old, or between hippies and squares — the band is revered as part of a glorious musical and cultural era when Britain seemed a more confident place. There was no controversy when McCartney received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II in 1997.
Today Sir Paul — or Macca, as he’s usually known — is revered as a musical legend who is still composing and releasing CDs, even if they no longer routinely shoot to number one on the charts. His forays into opera, ballet, painting and poetry have not been critical successes, but none of these have tarnished his reputation.
He is credited for having survived a number of tragedies — the 1980 murder of one-time songwriting partner John Lennon, the loss of his beloved first wife to illness, the 2001 death of guitarist George Harrison, and then the public breakdown of his marriage to Mills — with his upbeat nature intact.
Mills, a much younger model who had lost part of her leg when she was hit by a motorcycle, tried to battle McCartney in the court of public opinion during their divorce. She accused him of cruelty and sought a gargantuan $250 million settlement.
But her charges against McCartney didn’t stick and the divorce court judge ruled against her, calling her demands exorbitant and unfair.
The public divorce case opened McCartney’s vast fortune to unprecedented public scrutiny. Long rumored to be pop’s first billionaire, he was found to have assets worth about $800 million, including works by Picasso and Renoir and luxury real estate in the United States, Britain, and elsewhere.
But Shevell, who is independently wealthy and quite successful in her own right, is not seen by the British public as interested in McCartney’s fortune.
The couple met four years ago in the Hamptons, a seaside playground for the rich and famous on the eastern tip of Long Island in New York. Some reports say that Walters played matchmaker, inviting McCartney to a dinner she knew her second cousin Shevell would attend.
Walters said she cried during the ceremony, which she called “beautiful and wonderful.”
Shevell, who was married for more than 20 years to attorney Bruce Blakeman and serves on the board of New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, is also a vice president of a lucrative New Jersey-based trucking company owned by her father.
She has stayed out of the public eye since taking up with McCartney, refraining from commenting on her relationship with the man once known as “the cute one” in the world’s most popular band.
She has a few things in common with Eastman: like McCartney’s first wife, she is American and affluent.
Unlike Eastman, who performed with McCartney’s post-Beatles band Wings, Shevell is not expected to join her husband onstage on his extended world tours.
She joins a pantheon of “Beatle wives” — each band member married more than once, and many of the unions were troubled.
Lennon, who would have turned 71 Sunday, abruptly left his first wife for Yoko Ono, and Cynthia Lennon has complained in print about his abusive treatment of her and his neglect of their son, Julian.
His relationship with Ono was punctuated with occasional breakups, but is often portrayed as a happy marriage, and since his death she has curated his works and burnished his legend.
Starr’s first marriage also ended in divorce, but he has had a long, stable union with his second wife, the actress Barbara Bach, who joined him at Sunday’s ceremony.
The two even went through a recovery program together when Starr decided to confront his alcoholism.
Harrison’s first marriage — to the model Pattie Boyd — ended in divorce when she left him for guitarist Eric Clapton. He had a long happy marriage to Olivia Harrison, who plays an important role in the upcoming Martin Scorsese film about the Beatles’ lead guitarist.