Lewis Hamilton: From humble beginnings to seven world titles - how the boy from Stevenage became F1's pride of Britain

Video report by ITV News Correspondent Neil Connery

Lewis Hamilton's record-equalling seventh Formula One world championship win has sparked calls for him to be knighted in the New Year Honours list.

The title record, drawing him level with Michael Schumacher, has added to his fortune of some £250 million - a far cry from his humble beginnings growing up in a council estate in Stevenage, Hertfordshire.

As the only black driver to have reached such heights in the predominantly white sport, Hamilton has spoken out about the need to increase diversity in Formula One and has been a strong supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement.

But he has also been - perhaps surprisingly for a jet-setting car enthusiast - a vocal campaigner for climate change action.

The boy from Stevenage

Breaking down racial barriers during a prodigious career as a junior karter, he summonedthe courage to seek out McLaren boss Ron Dennis.

He was just 10 when wearing a borrowed dinner jacket at a central London awards ceremony, he asked Dennis if he could drive for him.

Dennis wrote in the youngster’s autograph book: "Phone me in nine years, and we’ll sortsomething out then."

But just three years later, he signed for McLaren and was provided with a magic carpet into Formula One as the most prepared driver in the sport’s history.

Once there, he would build on the natural talent drawn from his early career which was funded by his father Anthony, who worked multiple jobs to set his son on the path to greatness.

Sharing a post on Instagram with a photograph of him and his father embracing, Hamilton said: "We started with nothing, he had four jobs to keep me racing at one time and I slept on the couch.

"We dreamt of doing something, something so far out of reach, becoming an F1 driver.

"For a family with no money, we may have looked and sounded crazy.

"People would laugh at us, call us names, joke about us but we kept our heads down.

"We did our fighting with actions on track.

"We did it as a family and we never gave up.

"So if you’re out there wondering, doubting yourself, don’t!!"

After his Turkish Grand Prix win, Hamilton posted a video entitled Still Rising featuring video of him go karting as a child and wrote: "Thanks for everything Dad."

But in 2018, he admitted he used the "wrong words" when describing his hometown as "the slums" while speaking at the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year show.

In a video to his followers on social media, he said: "I’m super proud of where I’ve come from and I hope that you know that I represent in the best way that I can always and nobody’s perfect.

“I definitely make mistakes quite often and particularly when you’re up in front of a crowd trying to find the right words to express the long journey that you’ve had in life. I chose the wrong words."

The party boy?

When he won his first title in 2007, aged 23, Hamilton was the youngest world champion until Sebastian Vettel in 2010.

So it was perhaps not surprising he earned a reputation as a party boy; hanging out with the likes of the Kardashians, dating models and celebrities including a long-term on-off relationship with Pussy Cat Doll Nicole Scherzinger and jet setting to fashion parties in his £25 million private jet.

Lewis Hamilton and Nicole Scherzinger dated until 2015. Credit: AP

But those close to him have rubbished his reputation as a party boy including his physiotherapist and "right hand woman" Angela Cullen.

She said: "I have spent the whole year with him and we partied maybe four times.

"He is not a party boy. If he has a three-week recovery between races he might have a drink to celebrate a race win, but if there is a race meeting the next week, he won’t drink at all.

"He occasionally does crazy things but no more than any normal person."

Hamilton addressed the rumours of his party lifestyle this year, saying: "People have, over the years, assumed many things in terms of how my lifestyle is.

"Of course I do different events, I have a life and interests outside of the sport.

"People take for granted the time that I allow myself to focus on being the best I can be and being in shape physically and also mentally.

"But I never do anything that will get in the way or hinder that. I only try to do things that add to it.

"Only I can know how far I can stretch myself and I really think I've managed to strike a decent balance.

"I know I'm given this playboy kind of image, which is not really me, if you were to go home and see me with my family, you'd know my core values."

Diversity in Formula One

One of Hamilton's core values is encouraging diversity in the sport he loves.

In June, he set up the Hamilton Commission, in collaboration with the Royal Academy of Engineering to help engage more black young people with science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

On its website, the Commission said it will research "work to identify the key barriers to recruitment and progression of black people in UK motorsport, and provide actionable recommendations to overcome them".

It will also address the lack of black role models in UK motorsport.

Hamilton has previously spoken out about how diversity has not changed within the sport during his career.

In an instagram post on Sunday, he wrote: "This year I’ve been driven not just by my desire to win on the track, but by a desire to help push our sport, and our world to become more diverse and inclusive.

"I promise you I am not going to stop fighting for change. We have a long way to go but I will continue to push for equality within our sport, and within the greater world we live in. 

"I was told by many that my dream was impossible, yet here I am. I want you to know that you can do it too."

British Formula One driver Jackie Stewart told ITV News that Hamilton was right to encourage diversity in the sport.

He said: "There hasn't been a black driver in the top end of motorsport of any category actually.

"So he wants to change that and I think it's a very good movement that he's producing to do just that. But I think we can hope to see even more people into Formula One in the future - both men and women - and whatever colour they may be."

Hamilton has also spoken out about his struggles as a black man in the racing community.

He told The Times: "Even now, the media ask me different questions than they do my competitors and make accusations directly and indirectly - you're not British enough, not humble enough, not loved enough by the public.

"Being the first black 'anything' is a proud and lonely walk."

He has also been a vocal supporter of Black Lives Matter and posted on Instagram an emotional response to death of George Floyd which sparked global protests.

He said: "I am completely overcome with rage at the sight of such blatant disregard for the lives of our people.

"The injustice that we are seeing our brothers and sisters face all over the world time and time again is disgusting, and MUST stop."

Hamilton has a tattoo on his back which reads "Still I Rise," the name of a poem written by Maya Angelou, an American civil rights activist and he regularly uses the tagline 'Still Rising' on social media posts.

The eco-conscious Grand Prix driver

Hamilton is also a vocal campaigner on environmental issues which may at first appear at odds with a career as an F1 driver.

This year, he has warned on Instagram that the "extinction of our race is becoming more and more likely as we overuse our resources" and has posted scores of appeals about environmental issues.

However, the F1 driver received a backlash from fans who pointed out that his carbon footprint may contribute to the problem.

But he defended his eco-credentials, pledging to be "carbon neutral" by the end of the year.

He said: "I don't allow anyone in my office, but also within my household, to buy any plastics. I want everything recyclable, down to deodorant, down to toothbrush, all thesekinds of things.

"I'm trying to make as much change as I can in my personal space. I sold my plane over a year ago. I fly a lot less now. I'm trying to fly less through the year."

Lewis Hamilton received an MBE in 2009 - but is a knighthood on the horizon? Credit: PA

Arise, Sir Lewis?

Hamilton was awarded an MBE after his maiden championship triumph in 2008.

Now, at 35, he will end his career as the most decorated driver in Formula One history, having already registered a greater number of victories, pole positions and podiums than anyone who has gone before him.

The case is now being made for Hamilton to be knighted in the New Year Honours list.

Former Labour cabinet minister Lord Hain, who serves as Chair for the All-Party Parliamentary F1 Group, will now write to the prime minister urging that Hamilton follow in the footsteps of Andy Murray, Mo Farah and Alastair Cook as Britain’s next sporting Sir.

"When I think about that honour of being knighted, I think about people like mygrandad who served in the war,” said Hamilton on the potential accolade.

“Captain Tom waited 100 years for that great honour, and then you have these doctors andnurses, who are saving lives during this hardest time ever.

"I think about those unsung heroes and I don’t look at myself as an unsung hero. Ihaven’t saved anybody. It is an incredible honour that a small number of peoplehave bestowed on them.

"I hear the national anthem and I am a very proud Brit. It is a special moment tobe up there representing a nation and having the flag over your head."