If Rishi Sunak wins the Conservative Party leadership race, he will become one of the richest prime ministers of the United Kingdom. Sunak and his wife Akshata Murty were valued at £730 million and entered the Sunday Times Rich List for the first time in May 2022. It is no surprise then that the British media has turned its gaze on his shoes and suits, on Akshata’s attire and even their coffee mugs.
Last week when the couple hit the campaign trail by addressing a meeting in Grantham, the hometown of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, it was pointed out that Akshata was wearing a £165 Club Monaco dress. In the coming days, there would be more such commentary as minute details of the Sunaks' lives would not go unnoticed. The striking white floral print on a navy blue background was obviously not the most precious in her wardrobe.
That sartorial taste would be subject to an intense glare came out when Boris Johnson-loyalist tweeted that Sunak went out campaigning in a £3,500 Henry Herbert suit and £490 Prada shoes while his opponent Liz Truss was sporting £4.50 earrings from a high-street brand Claire’s Accessories. Putting a price list on dresses, shoes and suits, typically on a centre spread, is reserved for Hollywood stars and members of the Royal family. In the case of the Sunaks, there isn’t the same flourish, but much more is at stake for them than many others who are regularly subject to price tags put on their shirts and skirts.
The Sunaks have never hidden their preference for the good and the costly. In December 2020, Akshata accompanied her husband to a venue in Mayfair in Gucci trainers for under £500, leather skirt worth £1,000 and a red leather coat worth £1,600. Few years ago, Theresa May was criticised for wearing £1,000 trousers. In 2013, the then PM David Cameron, when asked about the price of bread, responded that he owned a Panasonic breadmaker!
It was a £180 sleek mug on Sunak’s table that first caught the public’s imagination in 2020. On the eve of the mini-budget, the Treasury released his pictures poring over papers with the smart mug that was gifted by his wife. It boasted of that most redeeming feature one could seek in a mug – ability to set exact drinking temperature for up to three hours! At that time, Sunak was seen as a more pliable Chancellor than Sajid Javid who had resigned after Boris Johnson had asked him to sack his advisers. Dishy Rishi was gaining popularity.
On the eve of UK Budget 2021, Sunak was pictured donning £95 Italian-made flip-flops. By then, Sunak too had moved away from being looked upon as a natural heir to a possible challenger to Johnson. To the discerning eye, Sunak’s brushed-by-his-mom hair was a huge contrast to Johnson’s unkempt locks.
In March 2020, Sunak walked through Downing Street in £335 Common Projects trainers, giving a No 11 stamp to the popularity of white trainers as formal wear. They are made of white leather in Italy with a gold-foil serial number at the heel. When Sunak went ice skating with his daughter earlier this year, he wore an £800 Reiss shearling jacket.
And as if to rubbish claims of being a socialist chancellor, Sunak sported £490 brown Prada suede loafers to a building site in Teesside earlier this month. The cost was described as being more than a week’s average wage in the area. The only other politician to attract so much attention to their shoes in recent times was Theresa May. When asked how many shoes she had, May replied they are never too many!
The family's four homes – a four-storey, five-bedroom townhouse in Kensington, a Georgian mansion in North Yorkshire with 12 acres of land, a flat in South Kensington, and a penthouse in California – give enough clues to the circles in which they move and the income they have. Allegra Stratton, the former Downing Street press secretary who resigned amidst the Partygate scandal is godparent to Sunak’s two children. Stratton’s husband is James Forsyth, political editor at Spectator, who is so close to Sunak that the latter was the best man at their wedding.
In Johnson’s cabinet, Sunak clearly stood out for his natty dressing, making him a natural candidate for journalists on a label spotting and price hunting spree. And now with the leadership race heating up, there will be increased focus on his dressing choices, less on the style factor and more on the cost factor.Sunak and Truss both have spoken of being the rightful heir to Margaret Thatcher, who has her clothes on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Given a choice the preferred option is to follow her in No 10; having one's clothes housed even in a marque museum can only be a consolation, if at all. No surprise that in the BBC debate Truss said: “Rishi is a very finely dressed person and I am a great admirer of his dress sense.”