There are a trio of small towns in northern Hertfordshire, all interlinked, all interdependent. The first is Letchworth Garden City. Now, some important information. If you want to wind up one of the locals, just call it Letchworth – it sends them completely potty. Don’t ask me why, they’re all a bit peculiar up there.
Next is Welwyn Garden City. To nark these local townsfolk is even easier. Just refer to the place as Welwyn Garden City New Town. Say this to a local and you’d think you’d just asked to sleep with his granny. Or his poodle.
Both of these towns were built in the early part of the Twentieth Century, before Hitler had decided to do some redesign work on the south of England.
So this brings us to the third town: Stevenage. Unlike the two neighbouring Garden Cities, this civic monstrosity was not designed as a carefully thought out modern Utopia. This is a million tons of steel reinforced concrete moulded into a shape which almost perfectly fails to please the eye. From the hideous town centre to the endless retail parks surrounding it, there can be few other places outside of Soviet Russia that succeed so effortlessly in totally failing to instil a sense of harmonious community, and instead engender a feeling of hopeless despair.
Apparently, Manchester is the wettest place in England, but I don’t believe this. Experience has taught me that it must surely be Stevenage. It’s uncanny. Every time I go to this ruddy hellhole it’s raining. It can be the most beautiful balmy summer’s day, but I guarantee that as soon as you arrive in the town, a cloud will bubble into life and deposit its contents right on top of you – and usually without any warning.
Though this does go some way towards explaining why Lewis Hamilton is such a demon in the wet.
So from this landscape of deprivation and decay emerged one of the greatest motor racing talents of the era. In two years of racing he has clocked up nine wins, twenty-two podiums and thirteen pole positions. Not bad for that wayward kid from Stevenage.
But he hasn’t forgotten his humble beginnings. Oh no. After clinching the F1 drivers’ championship with the most nail-biting, butt-clenching season finale in the sport’s history, he didn’t set off for the Maldives, Bali or the Bahamas with his pop star girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger. Nope, he took her back to his parents’ house in Tewin (just outside Welwyn Garden City) for some of his stepmother’s roast chicken.
Nicole must have been thrilled.
“Hey baby, you wanna find a nice, quiet beach so we can set our pulses racin’?”
“Nah, I fancy some chicken. Hope Linda’s doing parsnips. And Paxo. And roast potatoes cooked in lard. Yummm…”
After dinner the Pussycat Doll must have been even happier when Lewis shunned a night of being treated like royalty at any club in the land and took her to see the Shephall council estate where he grew up. Stevenage may be a little down at heel, but it’s not exactly South Central Los Angeles.
“Yeah, we’re cruisin’ with da crew down da Stevenage ghetto.”
Call me old Mr Picky, but it doesn’t quite have the same panache, does it?
After that he took her to the flicks. It’s a little ironic that they went to see Quantum of Solace, the new Bond movie. Odd title and an odd decision, until you consider that it means a little bit of peace and quiet. Very fitting. I hope the irony wasn’t lost on him.
This is the difference between modern F1 drivers and their counterparts from yesteryear. James Hunt wouldn’t have been content with just one Pussycat Doll; he’d have all five. And he’d bring his Alsatian along and a supertanker of whisky.
The next day, Lewis was at the McLaren Technology Centre for the big welcome home and congratulations all round. Even Steve Ryder was roped in as host, complete with wobbly microphone and bouffant hair.
Lewis was surrounded by his trophies from the last two seasons as he gave a little speech, thanking all the McLaren and Mercedes people crammed into the ‘Lauda Dining Room’. But he wasn’t prepared for a letter of congratulations that was read out by Steve Ryder. Suffice to say, Her Majesty was awfully pleased. Lewis, bless him, was gobsmacked.
All in all, a pretty good week for young Mr Hamilton: F1 World Drivers’ Champion, the adoration of the nation (well, most of them, anyway) and a Pussycat Doll who likes roast chicken.
You do wonder, though, whether he nipped back to his home town that evening to burn it up around the car park of the Roebuck Retail Park.
You can take the boy out of Stevenage, but you can’t take Stevenage out of the boy.