How Rishi Sunak married into nearly US$1 billion in tech money: Britain’s new PM grew up privileged, has a bigger net worth than King Charles – and once said he has no ‘working-class friends’
Rishi Sunak is set to become Britain’s newest prime minister, taking over from Liz Truss after her astonishingly short – and chaotic – time in office.
Truss’ slashing of taxes and subsequent policy U-turns during her brief six weeks in office spooked the markets and plunged Britain into financial turmoil.
Her aggressive tax-cutting plan coupled with already soaring interest rates and a squeeze on energy prices worldwide has left many Brits with distinct financial worries and in a cost of living crisis.
The UK now has more food banks than McDonald’s, and many people are making the choice between eating and heating their homes, as shared by Insider. The Guardian reported in August that almost a quarter of the country is planning not to turn on the heating this winter.
On October 24, Sunak secured the backing of his Conservative Party to become its leader, thereby becoming the UK’s presumptive PM.
As a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sunak’s grasp of fiscal policy may be welcomed by a country facing immense financial difficulties.
Political research consultancy Savanta ComRes summed up public sentiment in a tweeted word cloud after it was announced that Sunak will be Britain’s next PM, based on the most common responses given to the surveyed question, “How would you describe Rishi Sunak in one word?”
“Clever”, “good”, and “OK” were prominently featured, but they were dwarfed by one word: “rich”. At the time of publication, the survey’s methodology was not made public.
A privileged childhood
Sunak’s parents were born in colonial Africa – his father, Yashvir, in Kenya, and his mother, Usha, in Tanzania. They met and married in the UK, where his father became a general practitioner and his mother went on to run a pharmacy. In a story for British media, a family friend described the pair as “passionately British”.
The 42-year-old was educated at Winchester College – a fee-paying school that, in 2022, cost US$38,500 to US$52,000 a year to attend. In an interview with Sky News, he expressed an understanding of how beneficial attending Winchester was for his career: “I was really lucky to have that opportunity. It was something that was really extraordinary, it certainly put my life on a different trajectory.”
Sunak became head boy at the distinguished boarding school before taking a path well-trodden for British politicians, studying philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford. There, he received a first, the highest accolade for an undergraduate degree.
It was during a Fulbright scholarship at Stanford in 2006, where Sunak gained an MBA, that his future fortune first entered his life. It was there where he met Akshata Murty, the daughter of Infosys billionaire Narayana Murty. The couple married in 2009 in an extravagant two-day wedding in Bangalore. Together, the couple’s wealth is estimated at US$825 million, according to the Sunday Times Rich List – more than double the estimated US$340 million wealth of King Charles and Camilla, Queen Consort.
It’s a union that made Sunak the first frontline UK politician to enter The Sunday Times’ annual wealth listing.
In that role, he oversaw several fiscal stimulus measures amid the Covid-19 pandemic, including a nearly US$420 billion lifeline of loan guarantees for affected businesses, per Reuters. But after Johnson was embroiled in numerous scandals, Sunak resigned and entered the race for the top job himself.
Clumsy displays of wealth
In the leadership election that ensued – which Liz Truss eventually won – Sunak played up his parents’ humble beginnings, emphasising how much they had “sacrificed” to give him an expensive education.
But despite his attempts to portray a down-to-earth image, the British public has had numerous reminders that Sunak has a very different experience with money than most people.
In August, a video clip of Sunak holding his contactless debit card up to the bar code scanner – rather than tapping it on the payment device – went viral, giving the impression that he rarely buys things in person. He later confessed that someone had to teach him how to use the card reader. In another resurfaced clip from a 2007 interview with the BBC, Sunak suggested he did not have any “working-class friends”.
He has also come under fire for his overt displays of wealth, including splashy purchases such as a US$200 self-heating “smart” coffee cup and US$500 Prada loafers. “Values are what are important, what I’m wearing is irrelevant to all of that,” Sunak told The Guardian about his extravagant purchases.
Sunak drew criticism for wearing US$500 Prada loafers to a building site on July, the same day he argued against tax cuts. Sunak’s wealth, however, has provided more than just the odd, embarrassing photo-op.
Tax and visa scandals
In November 2020, The Guardian reported that Sunak had failed to mention his wife’s massive wealth on the ministers’ register of interests. While ministers are supposed to declare anything that might represent a conflict of interest, a subsequent investigation found that he had not breached the UK’s ministerial code.
Earlier this year, Sunak’s wife Murty was also embroiled in a tax scandal after it emerged that she had “non-domiciled” status in the UK, which allowed her to avoid paying British taxes on the income she earned abroad, primarily from Murty’s stake in Infosys, which is based in India. Murty is also the director of her father’s venture capital firm, Catamaran Ventures, and has shares in several other companies.
Around the same time, Sunak faced scrutiny for holding a US green card while he was chancellor, despite his primary residence not being in the US, provoking questions about whether he enjoyed tax benefits as a result. He relinquished his green card in October 2021, according to his spokeswoman.
It’s yet unclear whether Sunak and his family’s wealth will prove to be an issue. His supporters, including British chancellor Jeremy Hunt, argue that Sunak’s experience in finance and at the treasury make him the right man for the job.
“To restore stability and confidence, we need a leader who can be trusted to make difficult choices,” Hunt, who will be looking to keep his position as chancellor, wrote in the Daily Telegraph. “We also need someone who can explain those choices to members of the public who are worried about jobs, mortgages and public service. We have a leader who can do just that in Rishi Sunak.”
- Sunak and his billionaire heiress wife Akshata Murty have a fortune of US$825 million; but he had a wealthy childhood studying at Winchester College and Oxford
- The former chancellor to Boris Johnson took over from Liz Truss in October, but has been criticised for his gigantic fortune, alleged tax scandals and splurges