Photo: Rob Howard
After more than three decades as an interviewer, I've asked questions of everyone from rock 'n' roll singers to politicians, movie stars to convicted felons. But as O's tenth anniversary approached, the editors had a brainstorm: Wouldn't it be interesting to turn the tables and have someone interview me for a change? "Sure," I said. "Who do you have in mind?" And that's when I had my brainstorm: It should be a group of readers.
Which is how, during a snowy week in February, ten women from across the country found themselves flying to Chicago to join me for a taping of the show and some lively conversation in my Harpo office. Ranging in age from 25 to 54, the women included a professor, a writer, a psychiatry resident and a research analyst. They came from as far as Kirkland, Washington, and as close as Urbana, Illinois, and along with their suitcases, they brought a long list of questions—everything from whether I'm planning to write an autobiography to who's on my iPod to how I know whether I've had a good day.
The morning of the interview had been filled to overflowing. I'd already taped the show and done an hour-long radio program with Gayle King. So by the time Gayle and I—and my cocker spaniel, Sadie!—joined the women in my office, I couldn't have been more ready to kick off my shoes, let down my hair and dish.
Oprah: This is so exciting—I'm glad you're all here, especially since it usually feels like there are only about five people left in the world who I haven't already chatted with. You can ask anything—it's impossible to embarrass me, and there's no wrong question. So who wants to start us off?
Ellyn Shull: I'll start, if I can go back to what you just said. After interviewing so many people, are there any who got away, and who are the ones you still want to talk to?
Oprah: Who got away was Elvis Presley. When I was a kid, I always wanted to talk to Elvis. Another was Jackie Onassis. I had the pleasure and honor of meeting her—I actually ate her clam chowder at my friend Maria Shriver's wedding shower. There's a picture from the shower where I'm wearing one of those appliquéd sweaters and Jackie's wearing a cashmere sweater and an Hermès scarf—classic, classic, classic. I look like 1985, and she looks like Jackie O. Later, because she was a book editor, she called and asked if I would write a book. As much as I loved Jackie O, I said no, I was not ready to do a book. But I said, "If you ever want to do an interview..." and she said, "I probably will never do an interview." So that was another one who got away. As far as who I'd still like to talk to, I really want to interview O.J. Simpson's daughter, Sydney Simpson. And Susan Smith, the South Carolina woman who drowned her children by buckling them into her car and letting it roll into a lake. Not because of the horrific-ness of what she did, but because she changed the way we look at parents in this country. When somebody comes forward and says, "My child is missing," we now suspect the parents first. She changed the paradigm.
Barbara Raymond: When you're interviewing someone like Susan Smith, how are you able to remain objective?
Oprah: I approach every interview by asking, "What is my intention? What do I really want to accomplish?" You can't accomplish anything if you're judging. I believe that all pain is the same, that all of us have had difficulties and challenges, and that our pain is in inverse proportion to how much we were loved as a child. If you didn't receive love, then you have a lot of dysfunction that you're forever trying to work out. For me, it shows up as eating and food. For somebody else it might show up as drugs. But for some women it might be more like, "Well, I don't know how to handle my life, so I'm going to put my child in the freezer." That seems extreme, but I really do believe we're all on a spectrum. And knowing that, I can talk to anybody.
Kelli Coleman: Most people don't have that gift of being nonjudgmental.
Oprah: Well, I'm nonjudgmental in an interview. Out of an interview, there's a whole other side of me!
Oprah reflects on how all of the public scrutiny has impacted her life
We Hear You!