Rishi Sunak looks to have an uphill battle ahead of him to become the UK’s next prime minister. As he vies with Liz Truss for Conservative members’ votes in the contest to replace Boris Johnson, here are 10 things you might not know about the former chancellor:
1) He wanted to be a Jedi knight when he was growing up
In 2016 he told children at a Northallerton primary school that the job he wanted most when he was growing up was to be a Jedi knight. It is not known if he ever wrote “Jedi” into the census just in case, but it is known that he went to see Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker with his then boss at the Treasury, Sajid Javid.
— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) December 20, 2019
His favourite film among the Star Wars canon is The Empire Strikes Back, although he has also been known to sing the praises of the cinematography of the last half-hour of Revenge of the Sith – the bit where Anakin goes mad and starts slaughtering people left, right and centre with his lightsaber.
2) His pro-Brexit attitudes go back a long way
In 1997 Sunak was already a committed Conservative and was dismayed when Tony Blair became prime minister. He wrote in his school magazine complaining that Blair “revels in the label of a patriot, but has plans for the possible breakup of the United Kingdom and membership of an eventual European Superstate. Already the New Labour rhetoric sounds worryingly pro-European and avid pro-Europeans are being sent to Brussels.”
3) Matt Le Tissier was his football hero
Once known for his wizard free-kicks, and now mostly known for his somewhat eccentric views on Twitter, Southampton’s Matt Le Tissier was Sunak’s football hero growing up during the 90s. Le Tissier famously stayed at Southampton throughout his senior career, which was Sunak’s team. The former chancellor told the BBC once that “one of my prized possessions is an 18th birthday card signed by the entire Southampton team”, highlighting Le Tissier’s signature in the middle.
4) He sneaked a TV into school to watch Euro 96
Sunak’s school days at the fee-paying Winchester college have been much written about. He has described the huge financial sacrifice his parents made to send him there and his embarrassment at having to wear second-hand uniform. But by all accounts he was a model pupil and ended up as head boy. The only anecdote people have of him ever getting into trouble at school is that he apparently smuggled in a portable TV so he wouldn’t miss seeing any matches at Euro 96.
5) Britney Spears is (sometimes) his workout soundtrack
Not directly Sunak’s choice, but Sunak has explained that his early morning fitness regime involves either a treadmill, Peloton or some gym class. He says he hates running outside. In 2021 on a podcast he revealed that his favourite were Peloton bike workout videos by Cody Rigsby. One of Rigsby’s trademark moves is to ask the people in the class to picture themselves as Britney acting out the bit in the Toxic video wear she is moving through lasers wearing a red wig. Sunak described Rigsby’s penchant for Spears as “no bad thing in trying to get you motivated”.
6) He needs to work out because of his muffin habit
In 2015, while campaigning to be an MP for the first time, Sunak confessed to a local journalist that he was a man of habit: he had to have a double chocolate muffin every morning, and always had two biscuits with a cup of tea in the afternoon. He also once said that he always tried to eat a pork and apple pie on Fridays, preferably from Taylors pie shop in his constituency of Richmond.
7) He once got mocked for having the wrong colour wellies
When Sunak first started visiting the Richmond constituency where he was to be elected, its rural nature meant wellington boots were an essential purchase. Alas he chose blue, a colour that apparently immediately marks you out as a “townie” – as everybody in farming knows, you wear green wellies out in the country.
8) There’s a “joke” about his “tan” that follows him around
Sunak took over from William Hague as MP, and he once recalled how early on while campaigning in a rural constituency, a farmer said when he was being introduced as a potential replacement: “Ah yes Haguey! Good bloke. I like him. Bit pale, though. This one’s got a nice tan.”
In later years, the story is sometimes told as if it is something Sunak has said about himself – “I’m like William Hague. But I’ve got a better tan” – in a sort of self-deprecating way to deflect racism. He told one journalist: “It was not ignoring the elephant in the room. There were not a million people like me running around [in Richmond]. There’s no point hiding that, it is what it is. We can have a good laugh on it, and move on.”
Sunak even joked at one point that he and his wife represented the entire immigrant community in the constituency. He has, though, spoken on occasion about the racist abuse he has received during his life, telling the BBC in 2019 of one particular incident: “I was just out with my younger siblings, we were out at a fast food restaurant and there were people sitting nearby, it was the first time I’d experienced it, just saying some very unpleasant things. The P-word. And it stung. It seared in my memory. You can be insulted in many different ways, certainly in this job, but that stings in a way that is hard to explain.”
9) He has seven fillings because of his Coca-Cola habit
In a 2019 podcast made with two schoolboys called George and titled “25 minutes and 4 seconds of cringe featuring Rishi Sunak”, Sunak revealed he had seven fillings caused by excessive consumption of Coca-Cola when he was younger. He says that he collects Coca-Cola things, but is now only allowed to drink it once a week. “I’m a total Coke addict,” he said at one point in the podcast, before jokingly clarifying that he meant the fizzy drink. He refuses Diet Coke and Coke Zero, and says he prefers the version of Coca-Cola sold in Mexico, because it is the only place it is still made with cane sugar and not fructose syrup.
10) He doesn’t want to be prime minister really anyway
In 2020 he laughed off suggestions that he was after the top job. “God, no. Definitely not, seeing what the prime minister has to deal with,” he said. He then went on to hail his relationship with Johnson, saying: “We have a close personal friendship which then spreads through the teams where there’s an enormous amount of mutual trust.” Liz Truss supporters will be hoping Rishi’s wishy comes true.