So, Lewis Hamilton is in trouble again. He gets criticised for his outfit when he turns up at one major function. And when he declines an invitation to another, it’s a snub against society.
Hamilton’s decision not to attend the BBC Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) awards next weekend has been enough to prompt disapproving stories in several British national newspapers. The Daily Mail leads the way, pushing a popular agenda by claiming Hamilton is ‘using his private jet to appear at celebrity functions all over the world’ and stirring the pot further by saying ‘Hamilton’s non-appearance is certain to raise eyebrows’.
Perhaps – but not among those who dislike the schmaltzy programme. In their view, SPOTY, now in its 63rd year, has long since become ensnared in glitz and the apparent need for any personality to possess engaging qualities and a distinctive character over and above the unique skill that made them famous in the first place.
As it happens, Hamilton approves of SPOTY, having been present in 2014 to discover that he had won the public vote. This year, he had too much going on.
Following the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Hamilton completed the tyre test, then flew to Malaysia for a function with Petronas before coming back to Germany to attend the Mercedes end of season gala, followed by separate visits to sponsors Qualcomm and Epsom. Last weekend, it was Paris and the FIA prize giving ceremony, followed on Saturday by celebrations with Mercedes team personnel from Brackley and Brixworth in the less salubrious but no less functional surroundings of the Milton Keynes Stadium. Crossing the Atlantic this week brings further commitments in the United States, the start of winter training – and the unfortunate omission of SPOTY.
You can be sure that columnists in the same newspapers disapproving of Hamilton’s absence will, this time next week, be writing about the dearth of so-called ‘personalities’ in sport.
The contradiction comes – not, it has to be said, in the national newspapers – but in social media denigration of Hamilton’s fashion statement as he attended the FIA Gala in the Palace of Versailles. His glittering white jacket was in tune with the bling of the occasion, if not the grandeur of the surroundings. But his choice of fashion offended traditionalists, both young and old.
Sam Bird, who hummed his way to victory in a Formula E race recently, tweeted: ‘I think your driving is out of this world and your talent is unquestionable but if the dress code is black tie, wear black tie and conform like ever (sic) other person.’ This, in turn, triggered claims that Hamilton was being ‘disrespectful’.
The latter censure would have been warranted had he been wearing ripped jeans, trainers and a studded jacket. While his ensemble was not to my personal taste, it was ‘dress’, albeit in an elaborate sense.
If Lewis chooses not to conform like every other bloke in a penguin suit in the room and shimmy his way in like a walking Christmas tree, good luck to him. It’s hardly a hanging offence and surely refutes the charge that sports people are boring when away from their working environment. The fact that they don’t always conform goes a long way towards making champions who they are.
41 years ago, at around this time, James Hunt turned up at an important function in London wearing no tie and white trainers (or ‘tennis shoes’ as they were then known). It caused total outrage, more so because the newly crowned World Champion was also late. Back in the day, not wearing a tie was considered as offensive as arriving barefoot on the steps of a plush establishment – something James was also prone to do when the mood took him. Which was often.
Had social media existed in 1976, James Hunt would have been vilified beyond reason. Today, he’s rightly remembered as a ‘character’. Lewis Hamilton may not be from the same mould but he deserves the same amount of slack.