Scrutiny makes it hard to have career in No 10, says Akshata Murty

Akshata Murty has described the difficulties of continuing her career while being the prime minister’s wife, in a rare solo interview as the next general election approaches.

In a wide-ranging interview, the Indian heiress whose personal wealth makes the occupants of No 10 Downing Street richer than King Charles, described a “routine” life, days after Rishi Sunak suffered heavy losses in local elections.

“It’s hard to continue with your career when you are so scrutinised, and you’re expected to drop everything for a state opening,” Murty told the Times. “Yet, if you become too involved in your spouse’s life, you are seen as meddling.”

Scrutiny is far from unfamiliar territory for the couple, who have a combined fortune of about £730m and have previously been in the headlines over Murty’s non-domiciled tax status, which allowed her to save millions of pounds in tax on dividends collected from her family’s IT business empire, Infosys.

Last year, a Guardian analysis found that Sunak’s fund to support startups during the Covid pandemic, when he was chancellor, had invested almost £2m in companies linked to his wife. The prime minister was also found to be in breach of the parliamentary code of conduct after failing to declare his wife’s interest in a childcare agency that stood to benefit from government policy.

“I am not a politician. I can’t always please everyone. My father told me the softest pillow is a clear conscience. Do your best and then you don’t worry. So that’s my role. To keep the show going,” Murty told the Times, as she welcomed schoolchildren into Downing Street for her Lessons at 10 initiative, which takes place every Friday morning.

“I try very hard to keep life as routine as possible. I also look at this time in our lives as an opportunity to serve, and you serve in the best way you can. That is my mindset.”

The interview came after the government’s defeats in local elections and as two of Sunak’s MPs crossed the floor to join Labour in the past two weeks. With Keir Starmer’s party consistently ahead in the polls since the start of 2022 and with a general election looming, Sunak has said he is “absolutely determined to fight”, despite many of his MPs being despondent about the Conservatives’ chances of retaining power.

In a recent joint interview with Grazia UK, the couple bemoaned one another’s bed-making and dishwasher-loading habits at home, where they raise their two daughters, Krishna and Anoushka.

“I have more flexibility and so I’m able to control my schedule a bit more, whereas you don’t have flex or time,” said Murty.

Murty, who was born in India, spent most of her early adulthood in Los Angeles. She went to the city’s private liberal Claremont McKenna College, where she studied economics and French, before studying at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising.

She worked for Deloitte and Unilever and then studied for an MBA at Stanford University, where she met Sunak, who had won a prestigious Fulbright scholarship. Within five years, they were married in a two-day ceremony in Bengaluru.

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“I remember meeting Rishi at 24 and later I’d visit him here when we were dating and we’d come to Westminster as tourists. I still didn’t imagine living in London. Even when Rishi was a new MP, I never thought five years later we’d be here,” she said.

When it came to the news, however, Murty said she engaged less than before. “It’s so much more personal,” she said. In April, Sunak apologised to Adidas fans after being accused of ruining their credibility when he was pictured wearing a pair of the brand’s shoes.

“Rishi has always worn Sambas. You kind of have to live your life and not let it consume you,” said Murty.

At one point during the Times interview, a parent of a visiting child to No 10 said she wanted to ask Murty about Sunak’s Rwanda deportation policy, which would deport asylum seekers who arrive in the UK by irregular means to Kigali, but refrained because she thought it would seem rude in the face of Murty’s kindness.

“I’m not the elected politician,” Murty said, when asked political questions. “I’m the wife.”

The Guardian

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