His wild, wavy thatch of blond hair earned him the nickname, ‘Tarzan,’ and—until today—of the many British political brouhahas he had been involved in, the most notorious featuring Lord Heseltine had been the moment in 1976 when he swung the ceremonial mace in the House of Commons.
Now comes dog-gate.
In an interview with the December issue of Tatler magazine, Lord Heseltine, the 83-year-old former Deputy Prime Minister, was asked about an apocryphal story that that he had killed a dog with his bare hands.
“Ah! I can tell you what that was,” Lord Heseltine told interviewer Charlotte Edwardes. “That was my mother’s Alsatian, Kim. I went to stroke him and he started biting me, here and here [he said, indicating his hands]. If you have a dog that turns, you just cannot risk it. So I took Kim’s collar—a sort of choker chain—and pulled it tight. Suddenly he went limp…I was devoted to Kim, but he’d obviously had some sort of mental breakdown. There was no choice.”
After this admission, a predictably intense media hell broke loose. The Royal Society For The Protection of Cruelty To Animals said it “would never condone an owner killing their dog themselves in this way”. It added: “If a dog needs to be put to sleep then a qualified vet is the right person to euthanize an animal humanely and painlessly, not the dog’s owner.” But the RSPCA would not look into the matter, it noted, as it had happened so long ago.
On Tuesday, Lord Heseltine gave more interviews to clarify that he had not himself killed his mother’s dog that day.
“Now by going limp, what I mean was that he reverted back to his ordinary self,” Lord Heseltine said. “He was calm, licking, being friendly and back to normal.”
Lord Heseltine told BBC Radio 4’s PM program that Kim had flown at him. With blood coming from where the dog had bitten him on his wrists, Lord Heseltine said he had shouted at his wife Anne, who he said was heavily pregnant, to get out of the room. (Lord Heseltine told the BBC he thought the incident had taken place in 1964, though his daughter Annabel was born in 1963 and his next daughter Alexandra in 1966.)
He said he had grabbed the choke chain around Kim’s neck, then the animal “went quite limp, and reverted to being the dog we all knew and loved.”
The incident left Lord Heseltine with “the most awful dilemma.” He felt he couldn’t leave Kim alone with Anne all day, or his mother when she returned from her holiday. Regretfully, he said, the next day Lord Heseltine took Kim to the vet to be put down.
The implication that he had killed Kim with his bare hands, he said, was “ridiculous.”
Lord Heseltine and his wife had probably hoped for a more bucolic set of headlines as they promoted their book about the lovingly-tended 70-acre garden at their home in Thenford, Northamptonshire, where they have lived since 1977. The couple also oversee an arboretum with 3,500 different varieties of trees and shrubs.
Lord Heseltine’s career is best described as colorful. In 1976, Michael Heseltine, as he was then known as an MP, swung the Commons mace in a fit of pique over Labour MPs’ victorious singing of ‘The Red Flag’ after they had won a wafer-thin Commons vote about plans to nationalize the shipbuilding industry.
As Defense Secretary, Heseltine resigned from Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet in 1986. In his attempt to achieve his ultimate ambition of becoming Prime Minister, he ran to succeed Mrs. Thatcher but was ultimately beaten by John Major. Heseltine became Deputy Prime Minister under Major in 1995, and was made a life peer in 2001.
As founder of Haymarket Publishing, Lord Heseltine has a huge personal fortune of around £300 million ($364 million). Most recently, he was vocally anti-Brexit.
On Tuesday, Tatler added an asterisked addendum to its piece: “Lord Heseltine has subsequently explained that after going limp Kim regained consciousness. After much consideration Lord Heseltine and his wife decided to take Kim to the vet the following day to be put down.”