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Rishi Sunak says his parents wanted him to speak without an accent to ‘fit in’

Rishi Sunak has spoken about the racism he experienced as a child and how his parents were so determined he should fit in and speak without an accent that he was sent for extra drama lessons.

“You are conscious of being different,” he told the deputy political editor of ITV News, Anushka Asthana. “It’s hard not to be, right, and obviously I experienced racism as a kid.”

Asthana was given access to the prime minister for the upcoming programme Rishi Sunak: Up Close – Tonight and has detailed her encounter in the Times. Sunak recalled the pain of hearing slurs directed at his younger siblings, adding that racism “stings” and “hurts in a way that other things don’t”. He felt what he experienced would not happen to his children now.

Discussing his Indian heritage, Sunak said his parents were keen for him and his siblings – a brother and sister – to “fit in and not for it to be, in any way, shape or form, a barrier”.

His mother, he added, was particularly conscious of how her children spoke. “One of the things my mum was obsessed with was that we didn’t speak with accents and we would speak properly,” he said. “So she was keen for us to try to do some extra drama.”

“I think any form of racism is simply unacceptable,” he continued, adding that when he speaks to world leaders, “most people look to the UK as an example of how to get this right”.

Sunak admitted that he never dreamed there might one day be an ethnic minority prime minister “because you didn’t have role models like that. [It] hadn’t happened yet.”

The programme followed Sunak to key constituencies, watching him spend time with his family and in Southampton, where he grew up.

Rishi Sunak: Up Close – Tonight is on ITV1 and ITVX on Thursday at 8.30pm.