Biggest mouth on earth
SYDNEY, 15 December 2010 – US talk-show legend Oprah Winfrey Tuesday named herself Australia’s new global ambassador, saying her much-touted visit Down Under would reap huge rewards for the country’s image and tourism coffers.
Winfrey, recording episodes outside the United States for the first time in her show’s 24-year history, said her visit with more than 300 US audience members would mean massive publicity for the huge nation.
“I have named myself an unofficial ambassador for Australia and I have the biggest mouth on earth,” she said ahead of taping two star-studded episodes of her show before thousands of fans outside Sydney’s iconic landmark, newly dubbed the “Oprah House”.
“I know that there’s a lot of talk and concern in this country as to what this will mean for Tourism Australia,” she told reporters as 6,000 fans waited for Winfrey and guests such as rapper Jay-Z and Bon Jovi to come on stage.
“Let me just tell you — this is the truth: It is immeasurable what four hours of a love festival about your country, broadcast in 145 countries around the world, can do,” she said, referring to her legendary selling power.
“Aren’t you glad I liked it?”
Winfrey, whose endorsement of books can trigger massive sales, said it had long been her dream to visit Australia and she had brought 302 of her loyal US audience members with her as a thank you in her show’s final year.
After years in the spotlight, she said she had never seen anything like the reception she had received in Australia — from the thousands cheering her in Melbourne in a welcome not seen since Princess Diana visited in the 1980s, to the ‘O’ lighting up the Sydney Harbour Bridge during her stay.
Crowds thronged Sydney’s harbourside from dawn hoping to catch a glimpse of the superstar, and many wore hats and shirts emblazoned with her name.
As Winfrey took to the stage under a blazing noonday sun, some had tears in their eyes. “She’s just an inspiration,” said 27-year-old Nicole Menzel who had travelled from Melbourne for the event.
Australia paid US$4 to 5 million to lure the talk-show diva Down Under, a government minister said Tuesday, but pundits claim the exposure could be worth more than ten times that amount.
Winfrey said that of the 302 audience members with her, about 200 had never previously left the United States and to them a vacation would mean “going to your brother-in-law’s house”.
“What I know for sure is that what will happen is that people… who had never even thought about Australia, didn’t know where it was… will have the seed planted in their hearts,” she said.
The first show filmed Tuesday on a stage beneath the Opera House had an Australian flavour, featuring actor Russell Crowe and the family of the late crocodile hunter Steve Irwin.
A second show was to be filmed later Tuesday by Winfrey’s Harpo Productions, which has spent nearly US$7 million on the trip and brought out 200 of its own staff to make four episodes.
Winfrey, 56, said her show had been a wonderful phenomenon but the time to end it had come, and while there would be “ugly tears” at the final taping, she had no regrets.
“I really don’t believe that it’s going to leave a hole in my heart,” she said.
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