The confessions of Oprah

In rare interview chat-show queen says 'I am my audience' and tells of sex abuse and tragic teenage pregnancy
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The Independent Online

Oprah Winfrey, the billionaire US chat show host who pioneered the genre of confessional television, has used a rare British interview to talk frankly for the first time about her own troubled upbringing.

In what was billed as her most revealing interview for almost two decades, the 52-year-old, described as one of the most influential women on the planet, also spoke about her problems with men.

In a series of confessions worthy of some of the more emotionally literate guests on her show, Ms Winfrey talked about a number of skeletons in her own closet - including the fact that she had been molested by a family member from the age of nine.

"It was a very big secret I had to hide," she said. "I felt I couldn't tell anyone because I would not be believed and I would get the blame."

Ms Winfrey, whose show is now screened in 109 countries, also revealed that her mother had tried to put her in a detention centre at 14, after catching her stealing money. At around the same time, the teenage Winfrey gave birth to a premature baby boy, who died shortly after.

Ms Winfrey said the difficulties she faced during her early life had ultimately stood her in excellent stead for hosting her show, which is easily the most successful programme of its genre.

"The reason that I can relate to my audience so well," she said, "is that I am my audience."

In an interview with the Daily Mail, Ms Winfrey revealed how her route to billion-dollar success began in the most inauspicious of circumstances. Her mother, Vernita, and father "were never boyfriend or girlfriend. They had sex one time on the way home from school. I was the result. It happened in a grove of oak trees," said Ms Winfrey, who now lives with her boyfriend of 20 years, Stedman Graham, a businessman.

Ms Winfrey was born nine months later, in January 1954, and spent the first six years of her life on her maternal grandmother's farm near the segregated town of Kosciusko. Afterwards, she moved to Wisconsin to be with her mother and new step-siblings. The experience was not a happy one for her and, at the age of 14, she was sent to live in Nashville, Tennessee, with her father, Vernon. It was, she said, a move that "turned my life around".

Over the past two decades, Ms Winfrey's show has consistently caused controversy and made headlines, but it is usually her star guests who have been left exposed. Hollywood star Halle Berry famously revealed to Ms Winfrey that she had suffered an "emotional breakdown" and had considered suicide after discovering the infidelity of her husband. Fellow actor Tom Cruise attracted widespread ridicule after an appearance last May. While talking to Ms Winfrey, Cruise started jumping maniacally up and down on the sofa, declaring his love for his "magnificent" new fiancée, Katie Holmes.

In her interview, Ms Winfrey also revisited some of her own, "obsessive" relationships. "In my shows, I dealt a lot with obsessed people who came on and talked about their problems," she said. "I understood them because I spent the whole of my 20s as an obsessive. The last obsessive relationship I was in, I said: 'This will never happen to me again. I will never be in a position where I love someone more than myself; where I give over my power to someone else.'"

The revelation had come to her during a tearful breakup at the age of 27.

"One night I suddenly saw myself," she recalled. "The man I was with had slammed the door on me and said: 'The problem with you, baby doll, is you think you're special.' I was on the floor crying ... 'I don't think I'm special, I don't, please come back.' Then, as I went to pick myself up, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and I saw my mother and I remembered her screaming one night when her boyfriend had left her... I got up, washed my face and said: "That's it.'"

THREE AGES OF A TV ICON

TROUBLED TEENS

Lived with her grandmother until the age of six, then went to Wisconsin to spend eight years with her mother, "not feeling loved". Molested by a male relative at nine, in her early teens Winfrey gave birth to a premature baby, who did not survive. At 14, she went to live with her father in Nashville, and her life changed.

EARLY SUCCESS

Won a university scholarship and was crowned Miss Black Tennessee. At 19, she became Nashville's first black TV news anchor. Got her first chat show, AM Chicago, 11 years later. In 1985, she received an Oscar nomination for The Color Purple. The next year, AM Chicago became The Oprah Winfrey Show.

CONTENTED BILLIONAIRE

Now 52, Winfrey lives happily with long-term boyfriend Stedman Graham, a businessman, and their five dogs. Despite cancelling a wedding in 1992, the couple have been together for 20 years; they have no children. Winfrey - the first woman ever to head the Forbes list of the top-40 richest entertainers - is now a billionaire.

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