Stevenage council house lad to four-time Formula 1 world champ - rags-to-riches Lewis Hamilton stays true to his roots with cheeky leisure park Nando's
PUBLISHED: 11:42 30 October 2017 | UPDATED: 12:27 30 October 2017
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The box-shaped fast food restaurant next door to a dual-carriageway is an unlikely venue for a multi-millionaire to spend an evening.
But Nando’s, the fast food chain on Stevenage Leisure park, is a firm favourite with Lewis Hamilton. It seems you can take a boy out of Stevenage and into a world of private jets, supermodels and Hollywood red carpets, but you can’t take Stevenage out of the boy.
Hamilton is not only Britain’s richest sports star but now a four-times Formula One world champion. He has been elevated to the pantheon of the greatest, joining legendary names like Juan Manuel Fangio, Alain Prost and Michael Schumacher.
Yet his rags to riches story is a tale that Hamilton believes would be a movie good enough to play at Cineworld, around the corner from Nando’s, where Hamilton once took Nicole Scherzinger, the world famous pop star and then his girlfriend, for a night out so that she could sample his favourite Peri-Peri chicken.
From a council flat on a housing estate in Stevenage to a fortune estimated at more than £130 million is a leap beyond imagining and even Hamilton has to pinch himself to believe it, as he explained emotionally late into the night after the Mexican Grand Prix where he clinched his fourth title last Sunday. He remembered his days at the John Henry Newman School, where some teachers were sceptical that this kid who went missing at weekends to race his go-kart would amount to much.
His father Anthony, who still lives just outside Stevenage in the village of Tewin, had no doubts, though. “I knew he would get to the top,” Anthony said. “We worked so hard to reach Formula One and now Lewis is enjoying every minute of it.”
I first met Lewis almost 20 years ago at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. Anthony was pushing a buggy containing Hamilton’s brother Nic, while Lewis stood by glowering at his first meeting with a newspaperman. Hamilton had been signed by Ron Dennis, McLaren’s legendary team principal, at the age of just 13 and was taking his first steps to fame and fortune.
In 2006, I reported for The Times on a youngster I believed would take Formula One by storm after watching him win the feature GP2 race at the British Grand Prix, overtaking three abreast on the fastest stretches of the Silverstone track. I had no idea then just how phenomenal a talent Stevenage had produced.
I have followed him through every stage of his racing life: from his first world title in 2008 with McLaren; through a disastrous 2009 when he told me he had thought of quitting the sport; a tense 2011 when he was beaten by a team-mate – Jenson Button - for the first time in his career; the much-questioned move to Mercedes in 2013, and then that first title with the team a year later. And now four glorious world championships.
All that means that the attention of Formula One, with its fabulous wealth, glamour and global following, is focussed on one small town in Hertfordshire, the birthplace of a legend …. who loves Peri-Peri chicken.
Kevin has been the motor racing correspondent for The Times and was nominated 2012 Sports Journalist of the Year. Follow him on Twitter @easonF1