Australia pays to bring Winfrey to Sydney 'Oprah' House

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The Independent Culture

Australia paid 2.3 million US dollars to bring American megastar Oprah Winfrey with her famed chat show - and its screaming audience - to the country to boost its global profile, officials said Tuesday.

Winfrey told an ecstatic American studio audience of 300 they would be flown to Australia to film episodes of her show during a tourist dash which would take in beaches, vineyards, Sydney Harbour and the city's "Oprah" House.

"We'll sail Sydney Harbour, some will sample shiraz in Aussie wine country and others will shop till they drop in trendy Melbourne," the chat show queen told the crowd.

"We'll get up close with kangaroos and koalas, kick back on some of the world's most beautiful beaches and experience... the Great Barrier Reef."

Some of last episodes of the popular talk show, which is winding up after 25 seasons, will be shot during the eight-day adventure, culminating in recording at Sydney Opera House.

The December trip has been almost a year in the planning and Tourism Minister Martin Ferguson said it would receive more than 2.5 million dollars (2.3 million US) in government funding.

"I think it's money well spent," he told reporters Tuesday.

Ferguson said the trip by Winfrey's show, which screens in 145 countries, would showcase Australia to the world and act as a drawcard for visitors.

"This truly represents an amazing opportunity to showcase Australia, the warmth and hospitality of our people and the depth and breadth of everything our country has to offer visitors from around the world," he said.

Hollywood star John Travolta was on set for the surprise announcement, emerging in a captain's uniform from the cockpit of a mock Qantas jet, as Winfrey said: "He's the pilot!"

Travolta is a qualified pilot and ambassador for Qantas, but the flagship national airline later clarified that he wasn't able to fly the group over because he was expecting a baby with wife Kelly Preston at that time.

"We look forward to flying the Oprah show correspondents and over 300 of Oprah's most loyal viewers to Australia on our fleet," Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said.

Winfrey, 56, was ranked the world's most powerful celebrity by Forbes magazine this year, outclassing actress Angelina Jolie and singer Beyonce Knowles.

She is due to launch her own television channel, the Oprah Winfrey Network, in 2011.