RISHI Sunak was virtually unknown a year ago and has become the political celebrity of 2020, nicknamed ‘The Disney prince version of a Tory MP’
‘He’s a really good people person; really switched on and properly clever. He gets stuff quickly, he’s got political instinct. You’d struggle to find anybody who’s got what he’s got – it’s the complete package.’
‘It’s a remarkable talent in politics, seemingly to have no enemies, and not even people who seem to be that jealous,’ says a close friend.
Being seen as a star ‘generally puts noses out of joint in the parliamentary party,’ says another friend. ‘
But it’s just very difficult to dislike him. He’s a very easy-going, humble kind of guy.’
In 2014, Sunak turned his back on his successful financial career and set his sights on Westminster.
The following year, he won the Tory seat of Richmond with a 19,550 majority. Five short years later he was Chancellor, bearing a burden of responsibility none of his predecessors had ever faced, as the pandemic of Covid-19 caused a crisis in the UK.
To say that the coronavirus crisis has taken a toll on Sunak is without a doubt an understatement.
‘The day before he announced the furlough scheme, one of our economic advisers put a sandwich on his desk and said ‘You must eat’ because he just wasn’t eating,’ says a Treasury source. ‘He was looking thin and faint.’
Another adviser says, ‘He has to be told almost every day to eat. Otherwise, he’ll just work and work.’ An insider later revealed that Sunak sometimes goes without food deliberately, fasting on selected days from sunrise to sunset – not for religious reasons, but to ‘reset after the weekend’.
‘Rishi is feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders,’ said one colleague in early April. ‘He’s been working 18 hours a day for weeks. He’s physically and psychologically exhausted. But he’s always the one who says to people, ‘Come on, on to the next job.’ ‘
‘The guy has been a complete machine,’ says a Treasury adviser. ‘Everyone who works for him keeps telling him he needs to take a break. In the summer he took three days, nominally for a holiday, but even on those days he was doing his boxes, working. He’s definitely a bit greyer and has a more tired look about him than he used to.’
‘Lots of people, not just in Government but up and down the country, have been working around the clock,’ Sunak has said. ‘Everyone is trying to do the best they can. That often requires just working very hard and it’s stressful because it’s very uncertain. The decisions you make have a wide-ranging impact, and that weighs heavily.’
And yet throughout it all, Sunak’s public presentation has been continuously upbeat, with his Instagram account portraying him as what one admiring journalist has described as ‘the Disney prince version of a Tory MP’.