04/27/1998 at 01:00 AM EDT
When Nancy Perry Graham left New York City for Los Angeles on March 7, she had barely unpacked when a limousine came to take her to the Princess Ball, a fundraiser for some of Diana's favorite charities. "I felt like I was in a fairy tale," she says. "But I'm not the princess type. I grew up as a tomboy in Texas."
Which is perfect training for Graham's new job: roping in celebrity news as PEOPLE'S Insider columnist (page 51). "Basic curiosity drives me," she says. "I'm interested in the same questions readers are interested in." As L.A. bureau chief Jack Kelley notes, Graham's years of digging quotes from the likes of President Clinton and Colin Powell for our sister publications FORTUNE and MONEY prepared her for the task. "Coaxing Hollywood insiders to talk takes energy, charm and news sense," he says. "Nancy is up to the challenge."
A native of Dallas, Graham, 42, moved to New York City in the early '80s to work for a bank. Concluding that it was not her calling, she quit to freelance as a magazine writer. Somewhere along the way she stopped by PEOPLE to meet with our chief of reporters. "A cockroach crawled out of my portfolio," Graham remembers. "The woman said she would call back, but she never did."
Her vitae debugged, Graham landed a job at FORTUNE, where she spent 11 years covering the entertainment industry and served as the Los Angeles bureau chief. Signing on as MONEY's senior political editor in 1994, she learned that politicians, despite their power, were more accessible than movie stars. "In Hollywood," she says, "you have to knock down walls to get to celebrities."
Graham, whose husband, Gregory, is a chef, hopes to do that, gracefully. "My column will be based on good reporting," she promises. "If you build up a sense of fairness and trust, sometimes the walls can get a lot smaller."