Lauren Hemp has a problem. And, given she is tipped to become one of the breakout stars of England’s European Championship campaign, it is only going to get worse. While on the pitch Hemp plays football with a freedom and confidence that electrifies even the dullest of games, you would have no idea that, inside, she is instinctively shy and reserved.
But if there is one aspect the 21-year-old has struggled with in her career, it is the idea that she is a celebrity. Hemp habitually shuns the limelight. She doesn't like being spotted, and values the relative anonymity living in a big city like Manchester gives her.
“I don’t really enjoy that side of things,” she admits to Telegraph Sport. “Like when I’m playing, that’s fine, but off [the pitch]… It’s something I guess we are going to have to get used to it - try to embrace it. I’m definitely far more comfortable being spotted in my football kit than in a tracksuit going to the cinema with my friends.”
So when Hemp was photographed in the local chip shop near her family home in Norfolk - the pictures shared online and in the local newspaper – she was not best pleased.
“I don’t particularly like it,” she says with a self-deprecating laugh, reflecting on how her profile has rocketed since she made her England debut against the USA in March 2020.
“It’s more when I’m back in Norfolk, there are loads more famous celebrities in Manchester to keep people occupied,” grins the Manchester City striker.
“I don’t mind it, but I do get recognised in some random places. A couple of years ago when I was back home I got recognised in a chip shop and there were all these random pictures in the paper of me buying fish and chips.
“The worst thing was I didn’t even get any chips, I was just taking the order down for the rest of my family and I thought that was really out of order and unnecessary.”
On the pitch, where she beats players at frightening speed, drifting one way and then the other, or bursting past them with raw power and close ball control, Hemp is a readymade superstar.
Despite her tender age, she has arguably already overtaken the likes of Lucy Bronze and Ellen White as England’s most important and talented player. And yet she still seems comfortable with the inevitable pressure and expectation that accompanies those sorts of superlatives about her ability.
“I don’t really feel pressure,” explains Hemp, in a softly spoken voice that still has more than a hint of a Norfolk accent, five years after she left her home town of North Walsham, near Norwich.
“But as I get older, I also realise there is going to be more and more of it on my shoulders. I just take it in my stride. I like the fact people have those expectations of me.
“If you have one good game for England, you’re expected to have another. That’s just the way it is when you play for your country and your club.
“I’ve set a benchmark for myself and I want that pressure this summer. I want to be the best, I want to be the player in this team that people look for to make something happen.
“I want the expectation on me to come up with something, to be brave on the ball. In the position I’m playing in you have to have that confidence to be creative.
“You can’t feel nervous, or under pressure, because you’ll be too timid to play well or to try things. If people expect things from me this summer, that’s good, it means I’ve played well before.
“I don’t shy away from the challenge in front of me, I want that in front of me. It’s not something I worry about.”
'The whole country is going to get behind us'
It is a powerfully convincing reply to a question about the worry of too much pressure piling up on her young shoulders. Hemp looks and sounds ready to play in her first tournament for England, having already debuted for Great Britain at the Olympics in 2021.
“The tournament feels like it is fast approaching,” says the former Bristol Academy forward. “And it’s every kid’s dream to play in something like this. To play for England at a home tournament, in packed stadiums, I don’t think it gets any better to be honest.
“It’s one of the world’s biggest stages and this summer could be really special. We’ve got a fantastic team, some great players and it’s really exciting to think what we could achieve in July.
“Maybe the year’s postponement will mean I’m a better player at the Euros than I would have been before the pandemic moved it back,” says the four-time PFA Young Player of the Year, “I’m certainly a more experienced one. I’ve been part of a major tournament already at the Olympics and that just made me want to be part of another one.
“You could see during the build-up, with the ticket sales, that the whole country is going to get behind us. That’s going to be very different to the Olympics [behind closed doors]. I can’t wait to get started.”
As more people start to see her phenomenal playing style, on this biggest of stages, Hemp will inevitably be known and appreciated by a far wider audience when the tournament begins. “We are going to be in the spotlight even more this summer and we have to accept that,” she agrees.
Whether she likes it or not, Hemp is too good to be able to remain hidden from view. England has one of the world’s best young players. It is time for the country to see and, hopefully, celebrate her.