She is one of America’s best-loved television personalities, is one of the world’s richest women and last month topped Forbes’ list of 100 most powerful celebrities, but Oprah Winfrey is, it seems, sadly not immune from racially motivated prejudice.
The US talk show host, 59, says she was the victim of racism during a visit to Switzerland where she was attending Tina Turner’s wedding last month.
Winfrey said a shop assistant refused to serve her in an upmarket Zurich handbag shop, having said the bags on offer were “too expensive” for her.
The TV star said she left the shop without contesting the shop assistant’s behaviour but contributed her experience to a debate about the continued existence of racism on a US television show.
Winfrey told Entertainment Tonight: "I was in Zurich the other day, in a store whose name I will not mention. I didn't have my eyelashes on, but I was in full Oprah Winfrey gear. I had my little Donna Karan skirt and my little sandals. But obviously The Oprah Winfrey Show is not shown in Zurich.”
"I go into a store and I say to the woman, 'Excuse me, may I see the bag right above your head?' and she says to me, 'No. It's too expensive.'"
When Winfrey insisted she did want to see the bag the shop assistant allegedly replied: "No, no you don’t want to see that one, you want to see this one because that one will cost too much. You will not be able to afford that."
Winfrey, who is a billionaire, continued: "There's two different ways to handle it. I could've had the whole blow-up thing... but [racism] still exists, of course it does."
Blick newspaper reported that Trudie Goetz, the owner of the boutique Winfrey was allegedly talking about, Trois Pommes, had apologised for the incident and called it a “misunderstanding”.
Oprah’s allegations come amid a political row over plans by some Swiss towns to ban asylum-seekers from frequenting public places such as school playgrounds, swimming pools and libraries.
The draconian restrictions have been likened to Apartheid and angrily denounced by human rights groups as intolerable and racist.
Switzerland plays host to almost double the number of asylum-seekers per head of population of its European neighbours. It counts one refugee for every 332 inhabitants, compared to one per 625 inhabitants on the rest of the continent. Some 48,000 refugees are currently seeking asylum in Switzerland.
In June this year voters took part in a referendum which overwhelmingly backed moves to tighten asylum restrictions amid fears voiced by the popular right-wing Swiss People’s Party that the country was being inundated with refugees.