UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s California Vacation

Just last year, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s political fortunes almost collapsed over his wealthy wife’s privileged tax status in Britain. He was also criticized for holding a green card, which allowed him to live and work in the United States, sowing suspicions that his heart lay in California, where he began his career and where he met his wife at business school.

Yet last week, when Mr. Sunak and his family spent a 10-day vacation at their multimillion-dollar penthouse apartment in Santa Monica, Calif., there was scarcely a peep about it in the British papers.

The difference, analysts said, attests both to evolving views of Mr. Sunak, a onetime hedge fund manager who became prime minister last October, and to Downing Street’s shrewd media management of the Sunak family’s American vacation.

The family stayed largely under the radar, emerging only for a carefully staged photo opportunity at an amusement park on the Santa Monica Pier, playing games on what was Mr. Sunak’s first vacation in nearly four years. He and his wife, Akshata Murty, also took their two young daughters, Krishna and Anoushka, to Disneyland, where, he said, he was excited to try a “Star Wars”-themed ride.

The rest of the prime minister’s movements were largely the subject of social media hearsay. He was spotted at a 7 a.m. SoulCycle class by a woman who posted on TikTok that he must be a “Swiftie,” since the class worked out to Taylor Swift’s music. Further evidence for that came after reports that Mr. Sunak had caught a show by Ms. Swift, whose Eras tour rolled through Los Angeles while he was there.

Downing Street declined to confirm whether he was at the concert, in keeping with its policy of not commenting on every detail of his vacation. That gave Mr. Sunak a cloak of privacy unknown to American presidents, whose attempts at R & R are tediously documented by a trailing pool of reporters and photographers.

In Britain, vacations are often a reason to mock British leaders. Tony Blair famously got free stays at a villa in Sardinia as a guest of Silvio Berlusconi and at the Miami Beach mansion of the Bee Gees singer Robin Gibb. Boris Johnson made a misbegotten attempt at camping in the Scottish Highlands, attracting flak for pitching a tent in a farmer’s field without permission and leaving behind trash.

Mr. Sunak’s choice of vacation destination could well have resurrected awkward questions about his wealth and American connections. Mr. Sunak and Ms. Murty met while graduate students at Stanford University, and he worked at a hedge fund in California before returning to Britain to go into politics.

Mr. Sunak held a green card until 2021, after he became chancellor of the Exchequer, the highest-ranking finance post in the British government. Political analysts speculated that if his ambitions to become prime minister had been thwarted, he and his wife would have decamped for the West Coast, which they regard as a second home. Comparable apartments at their seaside building in Santa Monica are valued at more than $7 million.

Ms. Murty, whose father is the Indian technology billionaire Narayana Murthy, had been claiming “non-domiciled” status in Britain, which saved her millions of pounds a year in taxes on dividends from shares in her father’s company, Infosys. Last year, when the revelations threatened to torpedo her husband’s political career, she announced that she would begin paying taxes in Britain on her overseas income.

Little of this, however, resurfaced in the British papers. Part of that might be because of Downing Street’s media management. The photos of the prime minister and his family showed them strolling along the pier with a Ferris wheel and a ring toss stall as a backdrop — the kind of average-family vacation images more redolent of English seaside resorts like Brighton or Bournemouth than of Beverly Hills or Brentwood.

There was no evidence that Mr. Sunak socialized with Hollywood celebrities or Silicon Valley moguls during his time there. And the family’s other outings — the excursion to Disneyland and the rumored Taylor Swift concert — put them in the same company as thousands of families with young daughters.

Downing Street had appeared sensitive to the risks of a trip to the United States. It declined to confirm Mr. Sunak’s destination until the morning before he left, when he told a radio show that California “is where I met my wife, so it’s very special to us,” adding, “the kids are very excited because I’m taking them to Disneyland.”

Paradoxically, Mr. Sunak’s affluence might have helped rather than hurt him: Unlike some of his predecessors, who were invited by well-heeled businesspeople or celebrities, he almost certainly paid his own way.

“Boris and Blair got publicity for their evident freeloading, but no one thinks Sunak needs to do that,” said Jill Rutter, a former civil servant who is now a senior research fellow at UK in a Changing Europe, a think tank in London.

“Generally,” she added, “we think they should have a chance to relax with their kids.”

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