It felt like the Second Coming in Melbourne last night – for surely Christ himself couldn’t have inspired a more rapturous response in Rod Laver Arena.
About 12,000 people turned out for the first of Oprah Winfrey’s six shows across Australia and New Zealand, mostly women aged 30 to 60 eager to hear the high priestess of self-help preach her gospel of female empowerment.
Before the show, the atmosphere is electric, with the DJ pumping out songs like “I’m Every Woman” and concert-goers filling the aisles to dance in sync to “Nutbush City Limits”.
Just minutes before Oprah appears on stage, 45-year-old fan Jenny Howell-Clark says she’s so excited she couldn’t sleep the night before. The mother of two has happily shelled out $370 for her ticket.
“You have no idea how much I love Oprah,” says Jenny, who has founded an adult make-a-wish charity, The Orange Pigeon.
“She’s honest and she’s real and she says what’s in her heart. I just want to be in the same space – I can barely breathe now, thinking she’s going to be up there.”
And then She arrives.
“Melbourne!” Oprah roars in her signature style.
“Look at you! I don’t know why you’re here – you know I don’t sing or dance – but you came anyway!”
Everyone has come, of course, to learn how to “live their best lives”.
Looking sensational in a coral sequined ball gown and funky Afro, Oprah lays out her spiritual manifesto over the next two hours, proving why she is the world’s all-time favourite televangelist.
Any half-decent Oprah fan has heard it all before, during the talk-show host’s 25-year reign over daytime TV, but she is a master orator – a cross between your best uni lecturer and a stand-up comic – and all without a single sip of water, much less an “um” or an “ah”. If Sunday sermons were all like this, churches would be standing room only.
The self-styled guru explains her spiritual insights, weaving in tales from her extraordinary life, which famously began in dirt-poor Mississippi. She says she owes her entire existence to her mother’s 1950s poodle skirt – because her father “wanted to know what was under it”. They had sex just once.
She knew she was destined for big things even as a four-year-old, when her grandmother told her that she, too, would have to learn how to do the laundry.
“I could sense there was something more and I followed my calling,” she says, “and it led me here with you tonight.”
A maid her whole life, Oprah’s grandmother advised her to grow up and find herself some nice white folks to work for who would give her food and clothes.
“I grew up and got some really good white folks,” she jokes, “working for me.”
According to Oprah, the ultimate question is, “Why are you here?” and the key to answering it is becoming quiet enough to hear your intuition or “spiritual GPS” – which is where meditation comes in.
The best spiritual practice, she says, is keeping a gratitude journal.
It’s all about uplifting the crowd – and urging them to “turn up the volume” in their lives.
“When things go wrong, it’s your life speaking to you,” she says, “trying to move you in a different direction.”
In perhaps the most powerful part of the night, she recounts how she was raped by a cousin at the age of nine and later molested by two other family members, ending up pregnant at 14. Her baby son was born prematurely and died. She says she only recently decided to name the child Canaan, meaning “new land” or “new life” because that pregnancy ultimately gave her a second chance (The Weekly's Caroline Overington asked her why she hadn't named him yet in an interview for the November issue). She went back to school and decided to aim for excellence.
The show’s last few minutes reach a preachy crescendo as the music swells. Whether you’re stalled or stuck or scared or disappointed, she tells us, “it doesn't matter because you’re still here and this is your second chance”. During times of turmoil, “you were building strength, and strength times strength times strength equals power”.
Women in the audience are yelling out “Woo!” and “Yes!” and “Go Oprah!” – but it all sounds more like “Amen!”
As Oprah says, “your legacy is every life you've touched – so I have a lot of legacies here tonight”.
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