It wasn’t the easiest news to have to break, but he delivered it with the kindness and compassion of a favourite uncle explaining to his nephew that his hamster has passed away.
Afterwards, we were left thinking, “Well, what is a 20.4 per cent slump in the economy between friends, anyway?”
Even the announcement that the UK is in the deepest recession of any G7 nation hasn’t taken the shine off Rishi Sunak’s approval rating, which remains light years ahead of other members of the government.
When the Chancellor declares “we’ll do whatever it takes”, we believe him. “Genuine” and “likeable” are the words that come up in focus groups — and under his Instagram posts, often accompanied by the hashtag #dishyrishi.
Here are 8 things you may not have known about Westminster’s most popular politician:
1. He turned 40 during lockdown, which pretty much makes him a Millennial
The second-youngest Chancellor in history spent the day doing a socially distanced tour of a distillery in Kent — but celebrated with a can of his favourite tipple, Coke (the full-fat variety; he has seven fillings to show for his addiction). In accordance with his Hindu faith, Rishi doesn’t drink or eat beef and swears allegiance to the Crown on the Bhagavad Gita.
2. He may be the last genuinely middle class person to have attended a major public school.
After failing to get a scholarship to Winchester (motto: Manners Makyth Man), his parents — an NHS GP and a pharmacist — worked extra hours to cobble together the fees (now £41,709 p.a.). During the school holidays, he worked as a waiter at a curry house in Southampton and did his mum’s bookkeeping.
His failure to win a scholarship hasn’t affected the number of letters after his name — he took a First in PPE at Oxford and gained an MBA from Stanford as a Fulbright scholar. These days, his name is also preceded by the letters ‘BNPM’ in the press: that’s “Britain’s Next Prime Minister”.
3. He’s a top Pony Club dad
According to my source in jodhpurs, the Chancellor of the Exchequer always mucks in at Pony Club rallies (his daughters belong the Bedale Hunt branch in North Yorkshire) and always stays back at the end to put the jumps away.
4. He’s a household name in India
In 2009, he married Akshata Murthy, the daughter of billionaire N.R. Naryana Murthy, co-founder of outsourcing firm Infosys. His father-in-law has been described by Time magazine as “father of the Indian IT system”.
5. The force is strong in this one
As a child he dreamed of being a Jedi knight and he has an extensive collection of light sabres and Star Wars Lego. On Nick Robinson’s Political Thinking podcast, he aced a quiz on episodes I, II and III —the mark of a die-hard fan.
6. He’s quick witted
Parachuted into William Hague’s old constituency of Richmond, North Yorks, he was greeted with the sort of racist backchat from Wensleydale farmers that would cause even the most hard-nosed politicians to balk, such as “You’ve got a better tan than the last one”. He quickly won constituents round, joking that, “I’m not from Lancashire” — and by passing a crash course in farming with flying colours.
7. He’s richer than Croesus
Thanks to a successful career at Goldman Sachs and then as a partner at a major hedge fund, he’s a self-made man. But as one of his old flames from his school days tells me, it means “He’s not in this for fame or wealth, as far as I can see. So I like to hope that it means he’s genuinely in it to make things better.”
8. He studied at Stanford University in California
Which is where he met his wife. Despite having a billionaire father, Akshata Murthy has humble roots, growing up in a small town 250 miles from Bangalore. Her father has spoken of how they didn’t have money for a television or non essential goods growing up and how, even after her father’s company took off, he made sure she took a rickshaw to school to teach her ’the importance of austerity’ – a lesson Rishi himself might have to learn in the Treasury once the half price meals run dry.