Everyone loves a tale of triumph over adversity. And these days a humble-origins back story is a trusty weapon in the politician’s arsenal. If you can boast a tower-block childhood and a single mother or, like Rishi Sunak, an aspirational story of migrants striving hard to improve their life, then so much the better.
Anyone listening with half an ear to his slick ‘Ready for Rishi’ pitch for Prime Minister would have heard that his path to the Government’s top tier was not the breeze we thought.
He spoke of his grandmother coming to Britain ‘armed with hope for a better life’, who saved ‘enough money for her husband and children to follow her’. We heard, too, of the sacrifices made by Rishi’s father, a doctor, and his mother, a pharmacist. ‘My family gave me opportunities they could only dream of,’ he said.
TO THE MANOR BORN: The Sunaks’ sprawling manor house in North Yorkshire
Not quite everything was sacrificed – his parents employed a gardener at their comfortable Southampton home – but it is Rishi’s hope that everyone should ‘have those same opportunities to be able to give their children a better future’.
Admirable stuff. Social mobility exemplified.But what exactly were the opportunities he skirted over in his glitzy video? The breaks that helped propel his vertiginous ascent, enabling him to afford a home in Santa Monica, a £6.6 million mews house in Kensington, a sprawling manor house in North Yorkshire and a London flat for visiting relatives?
LONDON HOME: The ex-Chancellor’s £6.6 million mews house in Kensington
Rishi Sunak alongside his wife Akshata Murthy
Foremost among them was a first-class education. Naturally smart and possessed with a fierce work ethic, Rishi was always going to excel. But would he have risen so far without the leg up afforded by elite Winchester College, where he forged friendships and connections that would help him enter Westminster?
His mother once said his schooling enabled him to ‘stand up and talk at any time in front of a crowd’. But at £45,000 a year, Winchester is an opportunity few can afford.
From here Rishi went to Oxford and then Goldman Sachs bank, leaving after three years for Stanford University in the States.
LIFE’S A BEACH: The Sunaks also own a home in Santa Monica, California
He made more connections there, and he met his future wife, Akshata Murty, the daughter of billionaire Indian businessman N. R. Narayana Murthy, founder of IT giant Infosys.
Last week, Akshata dented her husband’s hopes of projecting a man-of-the-people image by serving tea to journalists outside their London home in £38 mugs. Rishi himself famously owns a £160 coffee mug that keeps your beverage at your preferred temperature and tracks your caffeine intake. And he has stepped out in Downing Street wearing £335 trainers. More damaging was the revelation in April that Ms Murty had ‘non-dom’ status – now given up – and did not have to pay UK tax on foreign income.
After Stanford, Rishi worked as a hedge fund manager and later at his father-in-law’s investment company.
RICH TEA: Akshata Murty serves refreshments to journalists in £38 mugs last week
Rishi once said: ‘I am very lucky to have been at these places. It does put me in an elite in society.’
Yet not so long ago many believed that Rishi’s background was working-class. Indeed, his advisers wrongly suggested he had a similar past to that of Sajid Javid, his predecessor at the Treasury, and famously the son of an immigrant Muslim bus driver who came to Britain with just £1 in his pocket. Now that’s the kind of back story money just can’t buy.