Hercule’s Rubbish Pet Portraits land a book deal and £60,000 for West Sussex charity Turning Tides
When Phil Heckels sketched a crudely drawn portrait of his pet dog for his parents, he had no idea of the six-month odyssey that would follow.
Within weeks he was appearing on international television, amassing Facebook followers by the thousands and has now raised almost £60,000 for homeless charity Turning Tides.
To top it all, he has signed a book deal for Rubbish Pet Portraits, penned under his pseudonym Hercule van Wolfswinkle.
There are some of Phil/Hercule’s pictures here
“None of it really feels real to be honest,” said the 39-year-old.
“I feel like I am talking about a film I have watched rather than something that’s actually happened to me.”
Phil, who has no artistic experience, shared his ‘rubbish’ dog portrait on Facebook last year and was soon having requests from friends for him to immortalise their pets.
One was so impressed he insisted on paying, but Phil suggested donating to Turning Tides instead.
A Just Giving page followed – with a target of £299 – and a Facebook group for commissions in exchange for a voluntary donation.
It smashed its target within three days.
“That first £300 is still the best feeling,” Phil said. “Me and my other half looked at each other and had that realisation that actually this could be much bigger than we had even dreamed and anything might be possible.”
The total continued to snowball, reaching £4,000 within a few weeks.
But it was an interview with BBC South East that propelled Phil to new heights. From local news in the morning, his portraits were on the front page of the BBC website by the end of the day.
Appearances on international radio, television and in newspapers followed, including a marathon four-hour feature with American network CBS.
As Hercule’s ‘rubbish’ portraits became a viral sensation the donations to Turning Tides flowed in, rising to £12,000 within a week of the BBC story.
The total now sits at just over £58,000, his Facebook page has more than 50,000 followers and it has been viewed more than one million times.
Phil, who lives in Coniston Road in Worthing, said there are 10,000 portrait requests in his inbox, with commissions taken based on a lottery.
Alongside his full-time job at an estate agency, his double life as Hercule has been taking up ‘every waking minute’ of his life.
“At times it has been hard, but actually I am just having a lot of fun and it’s been a great distraction from the stresses of the nine-tofive,” he said. “It rarely feels like a chore.”
Phil’s success sparked a bidding war between book publishers, before he signed a deal with Harper Collins. His debut collection, Rubbish Pet Portraits by Hercule van Wolfswinkle, is available for pre-order and will be released on May 27.
Some of the proceeds will go to Turning Tides, but the book presents an opportunity for Phil to sustain himself through the work of Hercule.
That in turn will allow him to dedicate more time to the portraits, he said, the proceeds of which all go towards Turning Tides and its work supporting homeless people across West Sussex.
The head of fundraising at the charity, Ruth Poyner, thanked Phil for his ‘staggering generosity and dedication’.
“He gives up his time, on a daily basis, to draw these wonderful pictures of people’s pets,” she said.
“We are so thankful to him and of course everyone who has supported our charity by making a donation. Together the profile of homelessness has really been highlighted and the donations are enabling us to support the increasing numbers of people who have nowhere to call home.”
For Phil, the work continues to keep Hercule going and raise as much money as he can. But he is keeping his feet firmly on the ground.
“If it all fizzles out tomorrow, I will look back on it with a great big smile on my face and that’s probably when it will hit me what I have done,” he said.
To support the fundraiser, visit www.facebook.com/portraitsbyhercule and www.justgiving.com/fundraising/portraitsbyhercule