‘Everything they touch will turn to gold’: What’s next for the Sunaks? (2024)

It’s all over for Rishi Sunak now that his party has lost the general election in emphatic fashion – despite retaining his seat, this is surely the beginning of the end of his frontline political career as he serves out the last of his days as leader of the party.

But as Sunak leaves the spotlight, might his wife, the Indian heiress and assured businesswoman Akshata Murty retake her place in it?

Murty, 44, who stood stoically in the background during Rishi’s Downing Street farewell speech, was arguably far more effective than her husband on the campaign trail – no wonder he called her his “secret weapon”. While Sunak dealt with the aftermath of his D-Day gaffe, Murty impressed at her visit to a Royal British Legion care facility in Ripon, North Yorkshire.

One person commented on her warm, sincere Instagram pictures with residents: “Akshata looks genuinely interested and engaged with the people she met, as if they hugely mattered to her.”

While she was ultimately unable to help turn around her husband’s fortunes, Murty demonstrated the acumen and leadership skills that prove she’s a serious talent just waiting to be unleashed.

Is it now Murty’s time to shine? And will Sunak willingly play second fiddle?

Ajay Berry, 48, a cousin of Sunak’s from the north Indian state of Punjab, told The Telegraph: “I know the couple very closely and they live their passion. Unlike our politicians [in India], they won’t like to stay in politics for hundreds of years. They may take a break from politics and do what they are best at, which is running businesses.”

Berry added: “They are a young couple and have a great life in front of them.”

He describes Sunak becoming prime minister as a “dream come true”, but thinks there’s far more to come from them. “If they lay hands on anything it turns into gold.”

Apart from the election, that’s generally true. However, it is worth noting that while Sunak had his turn at the top job, Murty put aside her own ambitions in order to support him and care for their children Krishna, 13, and Anoushka, 11 – an act that he acknowledged wholeheartedly in his farewell speech outside No 10 Downing Street on Friday.

“Most of all, I’d like to express my gratitude to my wife Akshata and our beautiful daughters,” he said, after thanking Conservative party candidates and campaigners. “I can never thank them enough for the sacrifices they have made so that I might serve our country.”

Now that he’s been ousted, it seems likely that the power dynamic will shift again between them, and Sunak’s high-flying wife will prove she’s just as ambitious, if not more so, than him.

It definitely seems unlikely that she’ll agree to remain in the punishing role of political spouse, which comes with a gruelling level of scrutiny, but which requires you to keep silent on any subject that doesn’t toe the party line.

Nor does Sunak seem eager to spend months or likely years in the wilderness of opposition. For both him and Murty, business was their first love – and a field where they both thrived – so it surely makes sense for them to leave the political arena while this fortysomething pair still have time to build another career.

There is much speculation that they’ll head out to California, which does fit with Sunak’s keen interest in new technology – he held a discussion with Elon Musk last November, and would be right at home working with an app or a cutting-edge Silicon Valley brand – and Murty’s relevant experience with start-up companies.

That’s also where Murty happily attended college, and the couple own an idyllic £5.5 million Californian penthouse apartment overlooking the Santa Monica beach where Baywatch was filmed.

Perhaps most significantly, it would take them far away from the British media and public, who have given them a bruising time of it – both during this turbulent campaign, and, going back a couple of years, with the fixation on Murty’s personal wealth and contentious non-dom tax status.

That next American chapter could well be a dazzling one. While Sunak had a lucrative career in investment banking before becoming chancellor and then PM in record time, Murty has also proven she’s a hotshot tycoon – and no wonder, given her background.

It is through Murty’s family that the couple are now officially richer than the King, according to the latest Sunday Times Rich List.

However, Murty wasn’t born into wealth: she initially came from quite a modest background. It was in 1981 – a year after Murty was born in April 1980, in the city of Hubli, in India – that her father, N R Narayana Murthy, founded his technology company Infosys, with support from her mother, Sudha.

They were working such long hours that Murty was sent to live with her grandparents in Mumbai. A few years later, her parents moved the family – which then included Murty’s younger brother Rohan – to Jayanagar, a suburb of Bangalore.

She’s spoken with great admiration about her parents’ work ethic, and her trailblazing mum in particular. “My mother is a rebel,” Murty has said proudly. “She was the only female engineering student out of her college out of 599 boys.”

Sudha wrote to the head of the TATA Engineering and Locomotive Company, pointing out that his job advert for engineers excluded female applicants. He was so impressed that he hired her, and it was there that she met Narayana.

Sudha is also a successful children’s novelist, selling more than three million books, and she runs the substantial charitable foundation at Infosys – which is now worth about £60 billion.

Much was expected of her children. “Both my parents wanted us to love learning not just for exams, but to engage with the world,” recalled Murty. “That means working hard, resilience, being endlessly curious.” They also, she said, encouraged her to ask “what value can you add to society?”

Fortunately, like her parents, Murty is a high-achiever. In 1998, she went to America to study economics and French at the private Claremont McKenna College in California, then got her diploma in clothes manufacturing from the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in LA, and finally a Masters in Business Administration from Stanford University. She met her future husband there: the smitten Sunak switched classes so that he could talk to her (another sign that it’s Murty who’s really in charge). The pair married in August 2009 in a lavish two-day ceremony in Bengaluru attended by more than 1,000 people, including the country’s top cricketers.

That suggests she was becoming cosseted by privilege, yet her Stanford professor Jennifer Aaker, who still uses her group project as a role model in her Building Innovative Brands class, declared that Murty was one of her best students – not just because she “was brilliant on her own”, but because “she is one of those people who lifts others up”.

Her teachers at Baldwin Girls’ High School in Bangalore shared similar reports of a teenage Murty. Although she was a natural figurehead, recalls Pratima Rao, spontaneously nominated for class leader and widely voted in, she wasn’t particularly competitive – instead, she cared about her peers. PE teacher Joyce Nathan agrees: “I remember her running around with her notes [during swimming tournaments], making sure everyone got to their sessions on time, and thinking she was a natural organiser.”

After graduating, Murty worked at the clean energy start-up Tendris. She then left to set up her own fashion line, with the admirable aim of championing traditional Indian designers and bringing them to a global market. But she couldn’t scale up the company sufficiently, and it was forced to close in 2012.

Since going it alone hadn’t paid off, she instead collaborated with her family; together with Sunak, she opened the London branch of her father’s firm. She currently owns a 0.93 per cent share in Infosys.

According to the latest Rich List, Sunak and Murty’s personal wealth rose by £122 million in the past year – it’s currently estimated at £651 million, up from £529 million – mainly due to Infosys.

They own a £2 million Grade II-listed Georgian mansion in North Yorkshire, a five-bedroom mews house in Kensington (estimated at £7 million), a flat on the Old Brompton Road, and that £5.5 million Californian apartment.

None of which was a problem – quite the opposite – until Sunak was thrust into the limelight after becoming prime minister, and his wife’s financial situation ignited a scandal.

In April 2022, it was revealed that Murty claimed non-domicile status, meaning she had avoided paying around £20 million in UK tax on her dividends. It was perfectly legal, but a bad look considering her husband, then the chancellor, was concurrently raising taxes on UK citizens – and it contributed to the perception that Sunak was out of touch with the electorate.

Murty subsequently agreed to change her tax status, saying: “I understand and appreciate the British sense of fairness and I do not wish my tax status to be a distraction for my husband or to affect my family.”

Now that Sunak is no longer running for office, or under the same level of public pressure, could Murty reverse that tax decision? It’s a massive financial burden, and one that she’d be under far less obligation, as a private citizen, to shoulder with the Conservatives out of power.

A Tatler profile last year showed that Murty has a thrifty side – she and Sunak “hate waste”, and hand guests Tupperware full of leftovers after meals – but enjoys spending money when she thinks it’s warranted: she refurbished No 10 with specially commissioned luxury damask.

She will surely relish being able to make these decisions for herself in future, rather than in line with party policy or campaign strategy, and she’s already demonstrated that she can come up with popular enterprises when left to her own devices.

She recently shared details with The Times about her excellent initiative Lessons at Number 10, which saw schoolchildren invited to Downing Street to learn about everything from business and coding to cooking.

She explained that the programme sprung from a mindset shaped by her “entrepreneurial family”. She added that education is an area that’s always been meaningful to her: “I was raised to believe if you can dream it, you can do it.”

Might Murty set up an educational foundation to continue that work? While I get the sense that she isn’t naturally comfortable as a “celebrity” figure, she is keen to use her profile to advocate for certain causes and make a practical difference.

For example, a friend spoke of Murty’s eagerness to bring “more of the North to Downing Street” by promoting British crafts from their Yorkshire constituency and the neighbouring areas. Earlier this week, she visited local family-run businesses such as Mainsgill Farmshop and the Kidz Day Nursery & Pre-School at Catterick Garrison.

And while Murty’s fashion business didn’t take off, she has managed another kind of representation along with Sunak. Many in their homeland have praised how they “proudly wear Hindu religion” on their sleeves, and their visit to India for a G20 meeting last year was ecstatically received.

In an Instagram post, Murty said: “I’m so proud to be back in India as part of the delegation representing the UK and celebrating the living bridge between our two nations.”

Seema Sahu, a Delhi University student, declared that Murty represents “the spirit of a modern Indian woman”, since she “excels on the global stage while upholding her cultural values”.

It’s an impressive profile and skillset: a strong leader, but collaborative; a lover of tradition, but with a progressive, multicultural outlook. This time, it will surely be Sunak following his wife’s savvy lead, particularly if they do leave England for a new life in California.

Indian journalist Sriram Karri noted that Murty “has been the second personality to greatness, supporting someone in a larger role – first to her parents, and [then] to the prime minister”.

But I wouldn’t be surprised to see her seize that number one spot as the Sunaks chart their next course, and look to strike gold once more out West.

‘Everything they touch will turn to gold’: What’s next for the Sunaks? (2024)
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