When Oprah came to town


A couple of months ago I was invited by Swisse (the supplements and skincare company) to attend a day long wellness retreat, the details of which were kept secret from the small group of women attending until we arrived at a beautiful lakeside location in Coatesville, Auckland.

There we were treated to an outdoor yoga session, guided meditation, a facial using Swisse's skincare products, a consultation with a naturopath, a delicious and nutritious lunch and a juicing demonstration. The crew from The Centre in Kingsland played an integral part in pulling many of the elements together and it was an incredible day.

At the end of the activities, we were given gift bags and an envelope and were told that inside, there was a special surprise. I honestly couldn't imagine how the day could get any better. That is until I opened my envelope to find an invitation to "An Intimate Cocktail Experience with Oprah Winfrey". Like the other women, I could hardly contain my excitement and we all descended into fits of squeals.

Swisse Wellness Retreat

Swisse Wellness Retreat

Fast forward to the day of the Oprah live show in Auckland and my social media was abuzz with excitement. There was speculation among our Swisse retreat group that we may even get to meet Oprah herself, a concept which had this usually cool as a cucumber broadcaster with years of experience in interviewing famous people, experiencing slight conniptions.

Here's the thing - I was never an avid watcher of the Oprah talkshow, I wasn't wildly impressed by the wealth, or the fame. I was however, acutely aware that this woman was self-made and had risen to success by being authentically herself. For championing kindness in a cut throat world, where she could have floundered for being too soft, too female, too black. Oprah fought through real adversity with a steely determination and self-love, when the world was telling her she couldn't succeed. This is what got the butterflies going in my tummy.

When we arrived at the Swisse cocktail party (hosted in a private room above the stage at Vector Arena) we walked past the stage where Oprah would perform and was at the time, doing a meet & greet session with some prize winners. Swathed in emerald green, we all paused and drew an excited breath as we saw her, before being quickly moved on by security into the party.

At the Swisse cocktail event with Antonia Prebble

At the Swisse cocktail event with Antonia Prebble

The room was full of well known New Zealand sporting people, actors, political peeps and broadcasters, including Hillary Barry, who couldn't contain her genuine fangirl excitement when recently interviewing Oprah for TV3.

I've heard a few people make comment about Hillary's interview saying it was cringeworthy, but I actually really appreciated her just owning the damn fact that she adored this woman and it was undoubtably one of the biggest moments in her broadcasting career. After years and years of trying so desperately not to make mistakes, to not be a total goober with guests and to always be "professional", it's only in recent years that I have fully realised people like it when you're real. 

My thoughts were confirmed were Oprah walked in the room, serenaded by Sol3Mio and took her seat alongside Hamish McLachlan (an Australian sports broadcaster and Swisse ambassador). She immediately cracked a joke and put everyone at ease. She wasn't posh, she wasn't pretentious, she was just there to hang out and answer a few questions about her life, and she was clearly enjoying herself.

Hamish McLachlan & Oprah Winfrey

Hamish McLachlan & Oprah Winfrey

When asked who she was most excited to interview in her career, she told a great story about meeting Paul McCartney for the first time at age 39 or 40. This was huge for her because since she was young she'd been in love with him and had visualised them marrying with daily prayers; "think about Paul, think about Paul, Paul think about me, I'm trying to reach Paul". When she finally got to interview him, she was so nervous because she had this dream that she was going to marry him. She liked to be spontaneous and never used to prepare her questions for interviews, so when they sat down she asked him "when I was a kid I was just thinking about you all the time, did you ever feel me thinking about you?". 

Later, after posing for a photograph with Bronagh Key (the Prime Minister's wife) we all realised we weren't going to get a chance to do awkward hand gestures in an Oprah selfie, so we went to our seats for the show. Vector Arena was packed, the warmup DJ was playing all the hits including Patea Maori Club's "Poi E" and OMC's "How Bizarre" and the crowd was pumped. Oprah entered the room and thousands of people (predominantly women) rose to their feet, clapped, cried and shouted words of adoration at their hero, here in New Zealand for the first time. 

For over 2 and a half hours, Oprah spoke about her life, including the years of sexual abuse she experienced as a child and her teen pregnancy. She talked about being raised by her grandmother for the first 6 years of her life and the white family that her grandmother worked for. Her grandmother would frequently tell her, "all I hope for you, is that you get kind white people to work for, like I have".

She reflected on the key moments when she made decisions based on intuition and her "inner voice". Referencing God frequently, she may have freaked out the non-religious in the room. I myself am non-religious, however I do feel that there is more to this world than that which we can see, and I am a firm believer than you can achieve that which you truly believe, so her words resonated with me.

Oprah spent time with Auckland iwi Ngati Whatua and was impressed by Maori spirituality and our connection to the land. There was so much more that I wished I could have shared with her about New Zealand, including the recent statistics released about how 29% of kiwi children are living in poverty. I wondered what she would have said knowing this, what words she would have shared with our leaders, and with our Prime Minister's wife when they spoke. What would she have said to a young person stuck in a cycle of poverty? When asked earlier at the cocktail function what she would have told her 15 year old self (who was at the time in a very bleak situation), she said "you will get through this".

The show itself was very much based around personal empowerment; being authentic, listening to your inner voice, and allowing failure to be your teacher. All of the principles that she spoke about are ones which I have read about previously at length. After a career and relationship meltdown 3 years ago, I read self help books, started keeping a gratitude journal, writing regular affirmations and tuning into (and sometimes using) my intuition. My life at that time improved considerably and most of the affirmations I was writing started to manifest in my day to day life. In many cases, it wasn't until months later that I realised that I had in fact, achieved my goals. 

Even in the grandiose context of a live stage show presented by this woman with a giant personality, an army of PR behind her and millions of fans; she reminded me of some key principles which have helped me, but taught me more through relating these to her own stories of success and failure. The one thing she said which really stayed with me, and which was the first thought I had upon waking the morning after the show was this; "you can be a much better you than you can be a pretend anybody else".

Kia ora Oprah.