When life was a riot for the young Hezza

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The Independent Online
Michael Heseltine emerges in a new book as a rather louche fellow who played the field and ran a boarding house that verged on being a bawdy- house.

Extracts in the Daily Mail from the biography by Michael Crick, a television investigative journalist, also paint the Deputy Prime Minister as a sharp young man on the make who got up at 6am to mix margarine with his tenants' butter. The picture Mr Crick paints looks certain to reignite - at a critical point just before a general election - the controversy over how Mr Heseltine made his money and his tempestuous private life.

Mr Crick claims that Mr Heseltinehad difficulty controlling the "riotous" atmosphere in a multi-occupied house he bought in seedy Bayswater with a business partner in 1955. Two of the women tenants were "apparently working as prostitutes, although Heseltine didn't spot this," he writes.

Sir Julian Critchley, Tory MP for Aldershot and Heseltine's first biographer, shared Heseltine's stormy life at this period and knows what went on. "I stayed there," he said yesterday. "He had a room at the top, in an attic. This was in the days before the area was cleaned up by Rab Butler. You couldn't walk down Bayswater Rd without being accosted, and the girls had to live somewhere. He accepted boarders, provided they paid their rent. I expect he had no idea what they got up to during the day." Really?

Hezza sold the boarding house and bought a small hotel, the New Court, not far away. This was, if anything, even more exotic, being a haunt of American servicemen and their girlfriends. The man who wanted to be prime minister was their hotel manager. He also served behind the bar, and prepared breakfasts.

"At times the building appears to have descended into drunken chaos," writes Crick. "One evening saw condoms hung from the candelabra. On another occasion, when Heseltine organised a party for his sister Bubbles, an American sergeant put his shoes and sock in the punch bowl."

Heseltine enjoyed the fun. The book claims he had one woman in bed within three quarters of an hour of meeting her - and never spoke to her again. Sir Julian admits candidly: "Put it this way - Michael was not a homosexual. He was a particularly good-looking man and he had a catalogue of affairs as any young man would. So what? But he was not louche, I can assure you."

Tight, maybe. Crick recounts the story told by Independent on Sunday columnist Alan Watkins that a "socialist woman" accused him of exploiting people. Heseltine retorted that he had been up since six that morning. Doing what? "I was mixing the butter with the marge." He may well have been mischief-making "but he wouldn't have been the first to do that," concedes Sir Julian.

More seriously, the book charges Heseltine the budding businessman with deliberately sending off incorrectly filled-out cheques to gain an extra few days on his creditors. This story has appeared before. In fact, the Deputy Prime Minister got into hot water by telling it himself last summer to a conference of small businessmen.

It is when the book moves from boardroom to present-day bedroom that it may raise more eyebrows. The extract published so far does not deal with Heseltine's tempestuous courtship of his wife Anne... When the narrative gets to his courtship of his wife Anne, Sir Julian fears "it could become trickier".