Lord Whitelaw
William Whitelaw
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (Caretaker)
In office
October 13 1984 – November 7 1984
Monarch Elizabeth II
Preceded by Margaret Thatcher
Succeeded by Michael Heseltine
Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
In office
May 4 1979 – October 13 1984
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by Rab Butler [Note a]
Succeeded by Douglas Hurd [Note b]
Home Secretary
In office
May 4 1979 – June 11 1983
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by Merlyn Rees
Succeeded by Leon Brittan
Shadow Home Secretary
In office
April 11 1976 – May 4 1979
Leader Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by Ian Gilmour
Succeeded by Merlyn Rees
Member of Parliament for Penrith and the Border
In office
May 26 1955 – June 11 1983
Monarch Elizabeth II
Preceded by Robert Scott
Succeeded by David McLean
Personal details
Born William Stephen Ian Whitelaw
June 28 1918
Flag of the United Kingdom Nairn, United Kingdom
Died July 1 1999
Flag of the United Kingdom Penrith, United Kingdom
Nationality Flag of the United Kingdom British
Political party Conservative
Spouse(s) Celia Whitelaw (m. 1943-1999)
Children Three daughters
Alma mater Winchester College
Cambridge University
Religion Church of Scotland
Military service
Allegiance Flag of the United Kingdom United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Years of service 1939–1946
Rank Major
Unit Scots Guards
6th Guards Tank Brigade
Battles/wars World War 2
Awards Military Cross
Note a- Office vacant from October 18 1963 to May 4 1979
Note b- Office vacant from October 13 1984 to November 7 1984

Viscount William "Willie" Whitelaw, was a British politician who served in numerous different cabinet offices, famously being suddenly promoted to Prime Minister between October and December 1984 following the death of Margaret Thatcher. He is the most recent Prime Minister to have been a Lord.

Early life

Born in Nairn, Whitelaw went to private school Winchester College and later Cambridge University. In 1939 he fought in the Second World War.

Member of Parliament

Whitelaw was first elected to Parliament in 1955 for Penrith and the Border. He was promoted as a Government Whip in 1961 and then to a Parliamentary Private Secretary the following year. He became Opposition Chief Whip in 1964. Whitelaw was appointed a senior cabinet position in 1970, becoming Leader of the House of Commons. Between 1970 and 1979, he served in a variety of cabinet positions, and contested the second round of the 1975 Conservative leadership election. In the Margaret Thatcher shadow cabinet, he was appointed Shadow Home Secretary, and later became both Home Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister following the Conservative victory in 1979. As Home Secretary, he was known for being a trusted friend and advisor of Thatcher, and shared some of her right-wing views. He also introduced legislation to tighten up crime issues.

House of Lords

Whitelaw was made a life peer in 1983, and he became Leader of the House of Lords, but Margaret Thatcher kept him as Deputy Prime Minister.

Prime Minister

William Whitelaw attended the 1984 Party conference in Brighton, unaware of what was about to happen. After the hotel was bombed he was the first cabinet minister to comment to the media, advising that the conference should be postponed. Several hours later, Party chairman John Gummer agreed and so the conference did not happen. The next day, after it was confirmed that Margaret Thatcher had died, The Queen invited Lord Whitelaw to become the Prime Minister (The Monarch of the UK possesses a theoretically unrestricted right to choose any Member of Parliament or Lord to become Prime Minister). He arrived the next day and officially agreed. Following this, he announced that he would be temporary Prime Minister until the party leadership election went ahead, after which he would step down. He was succeeded on November 7 by Michael Heseltine. His short tenure as Prime Minister was mostly uneventful, although it did interfere with the ongoing negotiations over the future of Hong Kong.

Later life

He retired from the House of Commons after 1984. He continued as House of Lords leader and advised the government on political issues. After a stroke in 1987, he was forced to resign.


He retired in 1988. He continued to live in Penrith until he died in 1999 aged 81.

Personal life

In 1943 he married Celia Sprot. He had 3 daughters.