Speculation intensified last night over whether Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton is set to marry his Pussycat Dolls girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger after her father revealed that they are engaged.
In an interview in The Mail on Sunday’s Review today, Alfonso Valiente says the 26-year-old former world champion has proposed to the singer, who he has been dating for four years.
The proud father, who has never before spoken publicly about his famous daughter, admits he speaks of the F1 star as ‘my future son-in-law’.
Still smitten: Lewis Hamilton and girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger may lead hectic lifestyles but they are devoted to each other, her father says
Mr Valiente, 52, split from Miss Scherzinger’s mother Rosemary when the star was six but remains close to his daughter.
He said: ‘You know about the proposal? Yes they are engaged.
‘My future son-in-law is a really nice guy, really down-to-earth.
My family all like him. The good spirit is there.’
Mr Valiente says he met Hamilton last summer when the couple spent a week on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, where his daughter, 31, was brought up.
He added: ‘When he walked into the house for the first time he picked up one of the babies. That went down very well.
‘He is sincere and he and my daughter seem genuinely happy together. Lewis is a really good guy. When they came to visit, we hired them a Jeep because he had never driven one before.’
Miss Scherzinger recently replaced Cheryl Cole as a judge on the US version of The X Factor in a deal reportedly worth £2 million. She met Hamilton at the European Music Awards in Munich in 2007.
The Mail on Sunday talked to Hamilton’s spokesman Simon Olivera yesterday morning and left a message for him in the afternoon.
But he only made a comment last night after early editions of The Mail on Sunday had gone to press, when he denied the engagement.
Love in the fast lane
From Caroline Graham in Los Angeles
When it comes to brains, beauty and plain ambition, few women could hope to out-do Nicole Prescovia Elikolani Valiente Scherzinger.
Not content with her lucrative career in the Pussycat Dolls and also being a solo artist with a No 1 hit, the singer and presenter has become an actress in a soon-to-be-released Hollywood blockbuster and now, at the age of 33, has knocked Cheryl Cole off her X Factor perch.
Wedding bells in the air? Nicole, seen with Lewis at the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix, is 'an old-fashioned girl at heart and would love a family'
There is a glamorous boyfriend too: Lewis Hamilton, one of the most successful drivers on the Formula 1 Grand Prix circuit, and a multi-millionaire.
Together they are, perhaps, the ultimate power couple, two stars bound together in a high-octane round of red-carpet events and snatched meetings in luxury hotels.
But this is where the real questions begin. If Nicole and Hamilton's talent and joint star quality are beyond doubt, their four-year romance brings with it a lingering element of intrigue - not to say sheer puzzlement.
How, you might ask, can any relationship possibly work over so many thousands of miles and in such stressful conditions? Is there truly a relationship at all, beyond what is visible to the photographer's lens?
Nicole Scherzinger is hardly Hamilton's girl next door - the two of them are rarely on the same continent.
She makes her living in the television and recording studios of Los Angeles.
Hamilton's world is the never-ending travelling caravan of F1, taking him from Silverstone and Abu Dhabi to Australia and beyond. Both are at the very top of their respective careers.
Today, however, Nicole's father Alfonso Valiente puts such doubts to rest saying, in his first-ever interview, that not only have the two of them found happiness in each other, but that they are engaged to be married. And the survival of their partnership in such turbulent waters, he suggests, owes much to the plain good sense and sheer determination of his daughter.
Alfonso, 52, met the man whom he refers to as 'my future son-in-law' for the first time last summer, when the couple spent a week holidaying on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, the place where Nicole was born and spent the first six years of her life.
Letting the pussycat out of the bag: Alfonso Valiente says his daughter wants to see more of her boyfriend, but their stressful lives can keep them hundreds of miles apart
'Lewis is a really good guy,' says the softly spoken Alfonso. 'When they came to visit we hired them a Jeep because he said he'd never driven one before.
'He only has two speeds that boy: flat out and coming to a screeching halt.'
It's a view that has been recently expressed in a less jocular fashion by Hamilton's F1 rivals, who have questioned his judgement on the track.
'You know about the proposal? Yes, they are engaged,' says Alfonso. 'My future son-in-law is a really nice guy, really down-to-earth. My family all like him.
'The good spirit is there. When he walked into the house for the first time, he picked up one of the babies. That went down very well.
'He is sincere and he and my daughter seem genuinely happy together.'
If they are indeed settling down, it might bring some welcome stability for Hamilton, a man widely considered one of the most talented drivers in F1 but, of late, one of the most troubled.
Frustrated in an under-performing McLaren team, the former world champion has found his gung-ho driving style subject to unprecedented criticism from racing greats including Sir Jackie Stewart, who spoke of his ' questionable moves', and Niki Lauda, who claimed: 'He's a danger to his peers.'
Hamilton is based in Geneva, hundreds of miles from his parents in the Home Counties, and it has been suggested that a life lived largely on his own can only exacerbate the huge mental strains of racing at 180mph-plus.
It cannot help that he is in the process of rebuilding his relationship with his father Anthony after sacking him as his manager.
A star from the beginning: Ambitious Nicole says she was 'driven' to perform and her mother made huge sacrifices so she could learn how to act and sing
It has also been a stressful year for Nicole, but a rather more successful one. Already enjoying the limelight following her spell as a temporary judge on ITV's The X Factor earlier this year, she was then hired as the presenter of Simon Cowell's US version of the show - only to be swept into a celebrity maelstrom.
Cheryl Cole was unceremoniously dumped as a judge by studio bosses at Fox, Rupert Murdoch's US network, and Nicole was promoted to the judging panel. She will sit in the most coveted position - next to Cowell - when the show is broadcast in the autumn.
So it was that, as Cheryl Cole licked her wounds by the pool at the five-star Sunset Marquis Hotel in LA last week, no doubt plotting how to salvage her career, Nicole found herself on a glossy magazine photoshoot to promote the American X Factor.
Strolling along the white sandy beach a stone's throw from his modest home in the sleepy Hawaiian beach town of Nanakuli, an hour's drive from the big hotels and tourist hotspot of Waikiki, Nicole's father is in no doubt as to where his daughter's true interests lie. He gestures towards the ocean and says: 'This is where Nicole was raised and where she first stood on a surfboard.
'It is such a beautiful and peaceful spot and so far away from the life she leads now.
'I am so very proud of her but I know that she and Lewis have to work hard to make it work.
'I spoke to her this past weekend and she was doing a photoshoot for Glamour magazine.
'She sounded in good spirits but her only complaint was that she hadn't seen enough of Lewis recently.
Nicole said, "It's so hard to get the balance right. At the moment it's just work, work, work for both of us."
Love in the fast lane: Nicole's busy lifestyle has pushed her into the spotlight and means she has to jet around the world to see Lewis, while racking up huge phone bills so they can talk to each other every day
'She sounded content but I know she would love to settle down.
'My daughter is very ambitious, but she is also an old-fashioned girl at heart and she would love to have a family.'
Perhaps one of the reasons the Hamilton-Scherzinger union works so well is that both come from multiracial and working-class families. As it happens, both were also brought up as Roman Catholics and both had childhoods disrupted by divorce. It might be more significant that both came under the spell of an ambitious parent.
In Hamilton's case, it was his father Anthony, whose family emigrated from Grenada. Raised by his mother Carmen till he was 12, Lewis then went to live with Anthony, who supported his son's nascent racing career by holding down three jobs.
Nicole also grew up in a fractured family. Her Filipino father met her Russian-Hawaiian mother Rosemary, a professional hula dancer, in church. Their child, Nicole Valiente, was born out of wedlock. It is those mixed origins that help explain her striking appearance - and that colourful list of names.
'We met in church here in the islands and I still have a lot of respect for her mother even if we don't speak,' says Alfonso. ' Rosemary was only 18 when she had Nicole. We were never married and split up when Nicole was six. That's when her mother moved her away from the islands.
'Nicole was a happy, beautiful baby.
She always loved to perform. She was shy but when she got on stage she came alive. She was special.'
centre of attention: The Pussycat Dolls catapulted Nicole to stardom... and into the arms of Lewis
After Rosemary moved to Louisville, Kentucky, and married German-American Gary Scherzinger, church-going took on increased importance. As Nicole put it: 'I grew up in a very strict, conservative family. I suppose I grew up with a lot of guilt.'
It is an upbringing that does not seem to sit easily with the image of the Pussycat Dolls, a group famous for their minimal clothing and uninhibited stage routine.
It is not an aspect of Nicole that her father seems anxious to explore.
'I think she is very God-fearing and modest,' he says simply.
'We are religious people and Nicole was raised a good Christian. It was something of a surprise to see her in those outfits.
'But she is a beautiful, talented girl and I've become very proud of her. I understand that she is in the entertainment business and promoting a sexy image is part of that. She has always done it tastefully.'
Nicole has admitted that, at school, she was always rather 'nerdy', a long way from the raunchy creature now familiar to television viewers. Her father is equally blunt. 'She always used to have glasses. She only stopped using them when she joined the Pussycat Dolls. Without them she is as blind as a bat.'
The stage career was not his idea, of course. If Lewis was pushed to success by his father, in Nicole's case it was Nicole's mother and stepfather who helped foster the desire to succeed.
She has spoken of being 'driven' to perform to overcome her feelings of vulnerability being the only mixed-race child in predominately white Kentucky.
Look of love: Lewis referred to Nicole as his 'fiancee' but she promptly dismissed his words, saying they were concerning on their jobs
As she has explained in the past: 'I was a very vulnerable child. I don't know where the desire to perform first started because I was so easily hurt. But I wanted to sing, to act, to get on stage.
'I was very aware we didn't have money. My mother would get clothes from a consignment store where you would exchange old for new.
'My stepdad would drive me to auditions in beaten-up cars. I came from a very working-class family and money was always tight. For me to have acting or singing lessons was a big sacrifice. That's why I work so hard.
'I paid my way through performing arts school by waitressing. I spent most of those years eating packet-mix pancakes made with water because I didn't have the money for milk.'
A former teacher at the Youth Performing Arts School in Louisville told The Mail on Sunday: 'Nicole was one of the rare ones. She was very driven, very motivated, very serious. She was always the first one in and the last one out.'
Nicole won a place in her first band, Eden's Crush, on the US television show Popstars in 2001. She believes this makes her well qualified to judge The X Factor in its first appearance across the Atlantic.
It is a venture that Simon Cowell openly admits will 'make or break' him in Hollywood - to the point that some observers believe he has effectively bet his multi-millionpound fortune on the project.
There's no stopping her: Nicole replaced Cheryl Cole, far right, in the U.S. X Factor and shows no signs of slowing down her career for marriage
Nicole said recently: 'Watching those kids get up on stage took me back to where I came from. You could see many of them didn't have a lot of money but they had so much hope. That's just how it was for me.'
In 2003, she joined the Pussycat Dolls, a burlesque stage troupe in Hollywood that transformed itself into a global phenomenon, thanks to some catchy pop songs as well as the provocative dance routines.
Their debut album PCD sold nine million copies and the hit single Don't Cha - with the refrain 'Don't cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?' - went to No1 in 17 countries and made a star of Nicole, the lead singer.
Last year, she partnered Cheryl Cole's ex-boyfriend Derek Hough to win Dancing With the Stars, American TV's version of Strictly Come Dancing. Nicole says Hough is 'like a brother to me'.
In fact, Hough was involved in her big TV break. This came when Cheryl fell ill with malaria after going on holiday with Hough to Tanzania and Scherzinger was asked to step in and replace her on the UK X Factor.
Like Hamilton, Nicole has spent much of her career living out of suitcases - a state of affairs that is unlikely to change in the immediate future.
Her role as Lilly, Will Smith's girlfriend in Men In Black III, will further boost her star wattage when the film is released next year.
Don't cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me? The seven-year age gap between the pair is irrelevant as they have such a 'connection' according to her father
The questions regarding Nicole and Hamilton, according to her father, are inevitable. 'People find it hard to understand how their relationship works. But all I can say is that it does work for them,' he says.
'At the moment it tends to be Nicole who goes to Lewis because her schedule is a bit more flexible than his. And she is at that level now where people fly her first-class or even privately. How nice is that?
'Lewis has a schedule with his work, but he goes to LA to see her more times than people know. They are only photographed at high-profile events like awards shows and when she goes to watch him race. But they do get together in Los Angeles and she will go to Europe.
'He likes the lifestyle in LA because not too many people recognise him. And Nicole and Lewis speak on the phone every day.' Skype, air travel and enormous phone bills are part of the fabric of the relationship.
'I think they would like to spend more time together,' says Alfonso. 'She tells me that all the time. But they are both very ambitious and being apart is the price they have to pay for having successful careers.'
The couple started dating shortly after meeting each other at the European Music Awards held in Munich in November 2007.
Of the seven-year age gap between his daughter and the 26-year-old F1 star, her father laughs nervously and says: 'You have to ask her about that.
'I have always seen them as a match. I don't think age matters when you have energy and a connection like they do.'
She lives in a £2.4 million French Polynesian house on two acres of land in the Hollywood Hills, two continents and an ocean away from Hamilton's home in Switzerland.
Her father says his only sadness is that he does not get to see as much of his daughter as he would wish.
'I went to LA for the weekend and was hoping to see her but she was in rehearsals and doing photoshoots and she was trying to make time for me.' he says.
'But in the end she called up and said, "Daddy, it's just impossible."
'It's OK because I know she is busy and I know she will come home to Hawaii when she has time.
'Nicole is a good daughter. She bought her mother a house here in Hawaii. It is something she always said she would do and she has. I want nothing from her but to see more of her.'
This is not the first time that there has been talk of marriage. Earlier this month Hamilton casually referred to Nicole as his 'fiancee', adding: 'We are very busy at the moment but she'll be planning the wedding.
'She'll definitely find the time for that, no doubt about it.'
It was a view that was promptly dismissed by Nicole, who said that, for the moment at least, they are concentrating on their jobs.
So, is there a wedding date for Hamilton and his daughter? If there is, Alfonso will not be the one to disclose it. In fact, just a couple of weeks on from our first conversation, I find him rather more cautious about his earlier pronouncement that the two of them are engaged.
'Listen, I don't want to be the one to say that,' he says. 'I think you need to hear it from them. I don't want to be seen to say anything that might be wrong. I don't want to get in trouble.'
Are these just the words of a protective father who fears he has let the cat out of the bag?
Or is it yet another change of direction in the turbocharged lives of Nicole Scherzinger and Lewis Hamilton - who could do no better than fourth at last weekend's British Grand Prix, a race that he won in 2008?
'I think both of them are having fun and just enjoying the ride,' says Alfonso. That, at least, appears to be true.