Lewis Hamilton has faced a storm of online criticism after referring to the Hertforshire new town in which he grew up as a slum.
On stage on Sunday night at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards, the Formula 1 driver said it was a dream for his family to ‘get out of the slums’ – before backtracking to say ‘Well, not the slums, but to get out of somewhere and do something.’
Stevenage where he grew up is a town of around 80,000 near Welwyn Garden City, which boasts a 14th-Centruy church, an arts centre, a gallery, a museum, and a large pharmaceutical research laboratory complex owned by GlaxoSmthKline.
Its inhabitants have not been shy in sharing their thoughts on Twitter, with mocking sarcasm and expressions of disappointment – although one user claimed the local cricket team had to bring their stumps in during a break in play for fear they’d be stolen.
The leader of Stevenage Borough Council said it was ‘disappointing’ and people felt ‘very offended’.
On stage at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards, Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton told presenter Gabby Logan it was a dream for his family to ‘get out of the slums’ – before backtracking to say ‘Well, not the slums, but to get out of somewhere and do something’
The 33-year-old driver faced some backlash on social media, as well as support from fans, but has yet to comment.
The five-time F1 world champion was one of six finalists for the title of Sports Personality of the Year which was won by Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas, at the ceremony in Birmingham.
Speaking to presenter Gabby Logan, he said: ‘It really was a dream for us all as a family to do something different. For us to get out of the slums.
‘Well, not the slums, but to get out of somewhere and do something. We all set our goals very, very high but we did it as a team.’
Twitter users lined up to defend their home town and pour scorn on Mr Hamilton’s comments
Residents found themselves on opposing sides of the debate, although on balance Twitter users were not impressed by the remarks.
One wrote scathingly: ‘Lewis Hamilton said Stevenage is a slum – unbelievable, but then I suppose it is compared to Monaco!!’ in reference to the driver’s current home.
Another said: ‘Lewis Hamilton describing stevenage as a slum [laughing emoji]. What an absolute toolbag’.
A user named Michael Dempsey said: ‘Lewis Hamilton has just insulted EVERYONE in his home town of Stevenage!! It is NOT a ‘SLUM’ you t***!!’
One wrote: ‘@LewisHamilton Are you for real?! Get your head out of your own a***! Slums?! I’ve lost a lot respect for you. Everyone knows that’s not true. #Stevenage #Hometown #SPOTY.’
One Tweeter called the five-time Formula 1 champion a ‘wally’, writing: ‘Lewis Hamilton talking last night on #SPOTY2018 saying how it’s been a long journey from the Stevenage slums… What a ridiculous thing to say, I mean when he was in these slums I wonder how far he had to walk each day for water… Oh yeah the tap… #wally.’
And another said: ‘When your first friends and family are from the ‘slums’, don’t alienate your roots.. There’s worse places to live #stevenage #lewishamilton
Some users seemed to think Lewis Hamilton’s comments might be more accurate than some Stevenage residents were were prepared to admit
But others defended the driver’s characterisation of his home town, replying on a thread: ‘Proud of Stevenage? What a dive. Let me ask you Sharon, would you walk through the town centre past 10pm on your own? I think not, I think not!’
And another said: ‘Personally i don’t find @LewisHamilton calling Stevenage a slum offensive at all, have you walked through town after a Saturday night?’
One user told a personal tale: ‘I really don’t like to comment on Lewis Hamilton calling Stevenage a slum but when I played cricket on their 2nd ground 3 years ago they brought the stumps in at tea so they didn’t get nicked….’
And more than one user thought perhaps too much was being made of the comment, which Mr Hamilton quickly restated
Others thought it might be possible rather too much might be being made of a six-word slip of the tongue immediately retracted, writing: ‘I don’t think Lewis Hamilton arranged to go [to] this event and slam Stevenage. Chill out love. It was something that was said and taken out of context. Doesn’t everyonbe say somewthing through life that they regret. #noharmdone.’
Another wrote: :’Please note that Lewis’s words were taken out of context and he tried to correct himself.’
St Mary’s church in the Hertfordshire town of Stevenage dates to the fourteenth century
Stevenage was the UK’s first designated New Town in 1946. Novelist E M Forster lived just outside and used the surrounding countryside as inspiration for his novel Howard’s End
The sailing lake in Stevenage, Hertfordshire. The Stevenage council leader criticised Mr Hamilton for his comments
Stevenage Old Town’s high street. On Twitter one user said they did not find Lewis Hamilton’s words offensive, adding, ‘have you walked through town after a Saturday night?’
Stevenage train station. The town of 80,000 people is around 30 miles north of London
Is Stevenage a slum?
Stevenage in Hertfordshire lies just north of Welwyn Garden City, around 30 miles north of London.
The town of around 80,000 boasts a 14th-Centruy church, an arts centre, a gallery, a museum and a sailing lake.
One of the biggest employers is the large pharmaceutical research laboratory complex owned by GlaxoSmthKline.
It has a pedestrianised town centre and like many new towns built after the war, multiple roundabouts.
The Grade-I listed Rooks Nest House, former home of novelist E M Forster, lies just outside the old town.
A comment on the Lewis Hamilton Facebook page said: ‘He was meaning his family were not well off but made sacrifices to help him become a go kart driver.’
Stevenage Borough Council leader Sharon Taylor said: ‘It is disappointing that Lewis Hamilton referred to Stevenage as ‘the slums’ at such a high-profile event.
‘He clearly realised what he had said and tried to correct it but sadly the people of our town, many of whom admire and support him, felt very offended.’
Team England para-badminton player Gobi Ranganathan said: ‘I for one am proud to fly the flag for Stevenage. It’s made me who I am today.
‘It’s not perfect, but it’s home. And it has a lot to offer if people just open their eyes.’