Thousands of screaming fans thronged to welcome US talk show queen Oprah Winfrey to Australia yesterday, sparking scenes of adulation usually reserved for royalty and rock stars.
Winfrey yelled out her enthusiasm for Australia, saying she had been welcomed by open-hearted people as the crowd waved banners and flowers and blew kisses at the megastar who filled Melbourne’s Federation Square to capacity.
The 56-year-old walked on stage with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard to a huge roar from the crowd, which welcomed the star in scenes reminiscent of tours by the Beatles and ABBA in the 1960s and 1970s and Diana, Princess of Wales, in the 1980s.
“I’ve never seen a welcome like this in my life. In. My. Life,” Winfrey told the thousands. “I don’t know what it is with you guys, I was saying this to the prime minister, I don’t know what it is, do y’all go to like friendly school? Everybody is so darn friendly.”
In a short speech to fans, some of whom had reportedly slept overnight in the square for a chance to see her, Winfrey said she was loving her first trip to Australia.
She described the country as “breathtaking,” saying she had flown over the Great Barrier Reef, visited Uluru and had seen koalas mating.
“So I know, that is the definition of g’day mate,” she said.
In her only public appearance, Winfrey said she had decided to bring her show Down Under in its final season because of the support of Australian fans over the years.
“I love the fact that y’all have supported me and supported this show,” she told the more than 8,000 screaming, applauding and banner-waving fans. “When we looked around the world, our greatest fanbase was right here in Australia. So I said, let’s go to the people who support you.”
“Thank you, Melbourne,” she yelled.
Winfrey began her “Ultimate Australian Adventure” on the Great Barrier Reef on Wednesday, flying into idyllic Hamilton Island on her private jet for a close encounter with koalas and a stroll on the pristine white sands.
She then traveled to the country’s red desert heartland where she met with Aboriginal Australians and explored the red monolith Uluru, a site sacred for thousands of years to the country’s indigenous peoples.
Uluru was not originally on Winfrey’s agenda, but she said singer Paul Simon contacted her when he heard she was going to Australia and urged her to spend some time at the deeply spiritual and culturally significant Outback spot.
“I have to say, your country is simply breathtaking” she told those gathered in Melbourne.
Winfrey, who has brought 300 people from the US as audience members for her only shows outside the US, said she was grateful for the hospitality she had received.
The talkshow star’s movements are tightly guarded, but a climb of Sydney’s Harbour Bridge and visit to Bondi Beach are believed to be on the agenda when she returns to the harbor city at the weekend.
The iconic Sydney Opera House will become the “Oprah House” on Tuesday, when two episodes of the hit talk show are to be filmed in its forecourt before 12,000 Australians who were selected by ballot.
Ranked the world’s most powerful celebrity by Forbes magazine, local media have dubbed Oprah’s visit the “biggest show in town,” with security rivaling that normally offered to heads of state.