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Rishi Sunak recalls when he couldn’t afford luxury Half Moon Bay stay

Rishi Sunak, the Stanford MBA who’s now the U.K. prime minister and one of his country’s wealthiest citizens, talked a bit bashfully about how he chose the ocean bluffs at Half Moon Bay as the place to propose to his wife, Akshata Murty.

In an interview with Piers Morgan for TalkTV, Sunak, 42, also curiously described the trip to Half Moon Bay as a splurge, saying it involved a romantic stay at a luxury hotel along the Pacific Ocean, thought to be the Ritz-Carlton. Sunak suggested that he and Murty couldn’t afford to stay at the “nice fancy hotel” before that trip, when they were MBA students at Stanford in the mid-2000s.

Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak (R) pose with his wife Akshata Murthy (L) for pictures during a reception to celebrate the British Asian Trust at The British Museum on February 9, 2022 in London. (Photo by TRISTAN FEWINGS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images) 

“We got engaged in a place called Half Moon Bay – it was a place that when we were students, we met when we were studying together in the States, and we used to walk in this area and look up at this nice fancy hotel that we never could stay in,” the Conservative PM said about the luxury resort, where a deluxe room starts around $750 a night. He and Murty married in 2009. “Then I surprised her and we did go and stay there. But before that we went for a walk along the cliffs and we were alone and that’s where I proposed.”

What’s curious about Sunak suggesting that the Ritz-Carlton was beyond their means is that he entered Stanford’s MBA program in 2004 after working as a hedge-fund manager for Goldman Sachs, a job known to pay pretty well. Moreover, Murty, a fashion designer, is the daughter of billionaire Narayana Murthy, who co-founded the technology giant Infosys and is said to be one of India’s richest men.

Their respective backgrounds belies the notion that they were typical graduate students at Stanford, juggling T.A. jobs and crushing student loans. It stands to reason that, between them, they probably could have afforded a weekend stay in the “nice fancy hotel.”

It’s possible that Sunak wanted to downplay his access to a hotel like the Ritz when talking to Morgan, given that he also tried to avoid saying whether he was a billionaire in another part of the interview. Sunak’s wealth — he and Murty have an estimated combined fortune of $830 million, according to the Times UK — is a politically sensitive topic for him. He’s been dogged by suggestions that his personal fortune means he’s out of touch with voters’ concerns, especially as ordinary Britons struggle with the hardships of a cost-of-living crisis.

Sunak has tried to portray himself as the child of immigrant parents, a doctor father and a shopkeeper mother who taught him the value of hard work and community service. He’s also talked about how they took on extra work to send him to top British private schools.

The pugnacious Morgan made Sunak squirm a bit when he asked him if he was “stinking rich.” Sunak paused before answering: “Well, most people would consider I am financially fortunate, yes.”

“Are you a billionaire?” Morgan pressed.

“I’m not going to get into that,” Sunak responded. “What matters about that is not how much is in my bank account, what matters are my values and the actions that I take.”

Morgan was a bit more gentle when teasing Sunak about being a “bit of a geek” who likes “Star Wars,” rapping to Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” and rom-coms like “Love Actually.” Such revelations might bolster the “Dishy Rishi” nickname given to Sunak by the British media for his youthful looks, sharp suits, confident manner and polished media presence. Morgan also praised Sunak’s marriage proposal story, saying, “You’re a bit of a romantic.”

“I’d like to think so, you’re probably better off to ask her. … She said yes,” Sunak said.

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