x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

You pay for the music

Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton talks about the price of success, a price he is happy to pay.

Meeting Lewis Hamilton is, it seems, an event of such significance that it calls for the design of a special T-shirt. Several "I Met Lewis Hamilton" shirts are being paraded around the Reebok store in Dubai Mall, where the lucky few are here to shake hands with the youngest-ever Formula One world champion. Outside, a baying mob, who will have to settle for a glimpse, or an autograph if they're lucky, chant his name from behind a security rope. "Lew-is, Lew-is". They sound as if they want to eat him. When he finally arrives, all five feet, seven inches of him, amid a sea of flashing bulbs, you want to whisk him away from all this madness. Hamilton, however, is unfazed, happily posing with sponsors and chatting to young fans as his entourage tick their way through his itinerary.

It is exactly a year since the then 23-year-old held aloft the Union Jack in Sao Paulo after snatching victory from Felipe Massa by a hair's breadth. Remarkable, pundits said, for someone so young - and only in his second season. Meanwhile, he has acquired the life of a star: the pop star girlfriend (the lead singer of The Pussycat Dolls, Nicole Scherzinger); the pad in Switzerland; and even a diamond-studded helmet. Throw in his good looks and it's safe to say he has lured a whole new demographic to the testosterone-fuelled world of Formula One.

So what does he find time for between all the intercontinental travel and pounding the treadmill (during the race, his heart rate will be higher than that of a marathon runner). "I'm hugely into music," he says. "I've grown up playing guitar. I love playing the piano and I've got a drum set at home." On his playlist are plenty of reggae, rock and hip-hop. He always, he emphasises, pays for his music. "I think the music industry has gone kind of downhill because the music's all over the internet and it's not the same. When I grew up you'd go to a record store and buy a CD and it was a great feeling saving up for an album. Also, I have a real appreciation for the people that do it. It's seriously impressive. My girlfriend - the amount of work she does is unreal; the voice she has is unreal. I think to cheat her out of that would be a shame."

Hamilton and Scherzinger started dating last year. While we're talking, he takes every opportunity to throw a compliment her way. "When it comes to clothes, the girlfriend buys me some good stuff," he says. "She's got great taste. I'll say does this look good, and she'll sort me out." His style, though, is laid-back. "I love my tracksuits. I travel in them everywhere I go." But he always looks slick. "I'm never really sure where I'm going," he says, "but fortunately I've got people who help me."

His success has allowed him to indulge in his love of jewellery. "I love the bling. But you look at a ring that costs £30,000 (Dh181,000) and you just think 'no'. That money could be much better spent; it could go to charity or something." He agrees that the talent and hard work that have propelled him to the top aren't mutually exclusive. "But I don't think you can put the two together in the same category. You have to have the talent. I mean, I don't know how I get in the car and drive - it's like a matrix. I know where the lines are, I know where the breaking points are and I know where I can overtake and where I can't. I don't know where I get that from, so that's the talent. But there are lots of people with talent. It's how you nurture that talent and how you take the opportunities you're given."

The support he received from his family in order to do that has been well-documented. "I'll never forget the incredible amount of effort they put in to making sure I am where I am. I would be lost without them." He still, he says, seeks their approval. "I just recently had my family over (to his home on Lake Geneva), which was the first time in three years. It was a big move and your parents letting go of you is always tough, so when you finally have them over you want to be able to show them that you've put something together well. You want them to be proud. When my dad came I was as nervous as hell and he went away and said: 'You have such a beautiful place.' It was such a good feeling to know he was happy with it."

Is he happier now than he was before he got to the top? "I think I would say I was a lot happier before I got to where I am," he says, before adding: "I don't want to say that in a way that sounds unappreciative because of course I appreciate what I've got and what I've achieved. But your life before, when you're growing towards it, you can never imagine the difference it makes being famous. I'm not saying I don't like my life now, but I definitely miss being at home with my parents, waking up to do my training, being able to go to the cinema without any problems."

Would he change it? "No. I love the success and I love what I do." By now the chanting has reached a crescendo, and the shop staff are looking nervous about the strength of the barriers. It's time for the next point in his itinerary. But I can sleep easy. I have met Lewis Hamilton. kboucher@thenational.ae