DREAMING of a better life, Rupesh Thomas travelled to England from India with just £600 to his name.
But more than 15 years later the businessman is now a real life ‘slumdog millionaire’ after making his fortune producing chai tea.
Today Mr Thomas, 39, owns a £1 million property in Wimbledon, South-West London and a second home worth around £350,000 in Croydon, South London.
Rupesh Thomas, 39, (pictured left with wife Alexandra, 37) has told how, after arriving in England from humble beginnings in Kerala, southern India, with just £600 to his name, he found his fortune producing chai tea
Growing up in Kerala in Southern India, Mr Thomas became ‘obsessed’ with England. Here he is pictured left as a child in India, with his younger brother Rakesh, 35, and mother, Shyla then on the right again with Rakesh (pictured to the left)
His chai tea business Tuk Tuk Chai is worth around £2 million and supplies luxury department store Harvey Nichols.
British actor Dev Patel’s character Jamal Malik in the 2008 hit film Slumdog Millionaire made his fortune by winning a TV gameshow – but Mr Thomas did not rely on luck.
Growing up in Kerala in Southern India, he became ‘obsessed’ with England and was determined to find out whether the streets of London were really paved with gold.
He said: ‘My father travelled with work. He had a picture of London and I would look at it. I desperately wanted to be there. I dreamed of a better life. And, for me, that life was in England.’
Aged 23, Mr Thomas sold his Yamaha motorcycle for £300, borrowed some more money from his father and took a one-way £300 flight to London in 2002.
Mr Thomas (pictured on top of a car in India as a boy) now owns a £1 million property in Wimbledon, South-West London and a second home worth around £350,000 in Croydon, South London
Mr Thomas still has his old passport, which reveals how much money he had when he arrived in England (pictured right) and a £4 travelcard from January 20, 2002 – the day he arrived in England (pictured left)
He arrived in Stratford, East London and landed a job at McDonald’s on the same day.
He recalled: ‘It paid £4 an hour. It was hard work, but I always smiled. I would see businessmen and it made me realise… ‘That’s what I want to do.’
A few weeks later he found a second job as a carer before becoming a door-to-door salesman in 2003.
Mr Thomas soon became the best seller in the company and was promoted to team leader.
Through work he met his future wife Alexandra, now 37. They married in 2007, holding celebrations in her native France and in Kerala.
In 2009 the couple bought their mid-terrace home near the Wimbledon tennis ground. They now have a son, Kian, seven,
Recalling his early years as a salesman, Mr Thomas said: ‘It was long hours, but it was also important. I needed to earn money. I knew what I had to do. I had to work. I had a hunger for it.
‘I learned a lot. The job gave me the inspiration to move to a mobile phone company in a sales capacity. I was working so, so hard.’
The idea for his own business first came to him in 2007, when he was inspired by his wife’s addiction to Indian tea.
Mr Thomas said: ‘Alexandra loves chai tea. When we’re in India she’ll drink up to 10 cups a day. And they make it in the UK, but it’s very sugary, it’s not made from tea leaves. I started thinking and saving, wondering if I could start producing it.’
Mr Thomas and his younger brother Rakash Thomas as youngsters in India
In 2015, with £150,000 saved in the bank, he decided to invest his money in the business.
Mr Thomas said: ‘I took a gamble. I thought there was a market for proper chai tea.’
And the gamble paid off. In March last year Harvey Nichols was so impressed with the quality of his product that it began stocking it in seven of their UK stores.
Then his tea reached the mass market in December when Sainsbury’s started stocking it as well.
But Mr Thomas, who won the Innovation Challenge for Tuk Tuk Chai at the ExCel in September, said luck has nothing to do with his success.
He said: ‘I am proof that if you work hard you can be successful. I really am a real life slumdog millionaire. My success has nothing to do with luck. It is down to hard work. I have a hunger for it.
Excelling at maths and science at school, Mr Thomas had a happy childhood, thanks to his devoted parents Joseph Thomas, 66, and Shyla, 62.
In 2009 Mr Thomas and his wife Alexandra bought their mid-terrace home near the Wimbledon tennis ground. They now have a son, Kian, seven. Pictured is Rupesh, celebrating his 2007 wedding in India
‘My father was going to be a bus conductor, but was offered an opportunity to work in travel in the Middle East,’ he explained.
‘It meant he was away a lot. I don’t blame him. He did the best for the family and he was very loving. My mother looked after me and my brother.’
At 18 Mr Thomas headed to Chennai in eastern Indian to study engineering at university – a subject he did not love, but one he thought to be a sensible choice.
‘In my heart, I knew I wanted to leave India,’ he said. ‘So, after graduating, I made plans to depart. My father didn’t want me to come to the UK. He wanted me to go to the Middle East.’
Remarkably, he still has his old passport, which reveals how much money he had when he arrived in England.
‘What I also treasure – and still have – is a £4 travelcard from January 20, 2002, the day I arrived in England. That was the best day of my life.’