As if seeing Oprah in Vancouver wasn’t enough of a thrill, Stedman showed up, too.
The biggest surprise of the night came early at Rogers Arena on Thursday (January 24) for An Evening With Oprah when Oprah’s notoriously private partner, Stedman Graham, introduced her.
Vancouver’s Jimmy Pattison opened the show explaining that he and his wife of 61 years have been friends with Oprah and Stedman for a long time. Then, to the audience’s delight, Pattison called on Stedman, who talked for five to 10 minutes. He spoke about “the Oprah I know”, referring to her as “my girl” and “a tremendous force in my life”—and told us that she makes fantastic blueberry pancakes.
Stedman then introduced Oprah, who apparently did not know that he was going to be in Vancouver. She greeted him with open arms for a hug. “I’ve been trying to reach you on your cellphone all day!” she chided him.
If Stedman surprised everyone, the second surprise for me was that the crowd wasn’t whipped up in a frenzy all night. The show went down more as a casual talk from Oprah than the screaming, crying audience interaction spectacles you see on TV.
Once Stedman left the stage, Oprah started talking about the lessons she’s learned in her life, starting with her childhood, when she learned public speaking through readings in her church. Her language seemed religious at times: “If you’re here and breathing I’m here to tell you that you have been called,” she told the audience, adding that it’s our job to hear our calling and honour it.
The church feel was underlined by the stage setting, which was bare except for four tall white floral arrangements, plus two white armchairs and a coffee table or two. Oprah’s gown-like clothing extended the gospel feel: a full, floor-length, shirt-waisted pale pink dress.
The tone lightened up quickly as she showed photos of her childhood and played clips from her shows over the years to illustrate her points. Her messages were familiar to any Oprah fan: she talked about things like living an authentic life, finding your purpose, and how everybody wants to matter and to be heard.
It wasn’t anything new, but that wasn’t the point. The thrill for me was to watch those clips of Oprah over the years—in which she’s so intimately familiar--and then see the live person on stage. Oprah is exactly the same in person as she is on TV. She’s not even larger than life. In fact, she’s calmer and, as Stedman said, “smaller”—with reference to her personality, not her stature.
When she finished her talk, the evening transitioned abruptly to an interview with George Stroumboulopoulos. When the two sat down, Oprah immediately whipped off her high heels and placed them on the table next to her, slipping soft flats on her feet instead. I won’t recap most of the interview—you can watch it on CBC.
When Stroumboulopoulos asked Oprah about her struggles starting her network, OWN, she admitted freely that she knows now she didn’t really understand what she was getting into. “I was delusional,” she said, laughing. Earlier in the evening, when she spotted audience members with an OWN banner, she thanked them and joked, “I swear, if I had some cars I’d give 'em to you right now.”
Oprah also seemed genuinely impressed with the city of Vancouver, noting the number of rooftop gardens she saw looking down from her hotel room. She said she and her assistant marvelled at how clean the streets were on the way over from the hotel, and they looked for but couldn’t spot any trash—not even cigarette butts. “Are you allowed to smoke?” she asked the audience.
“It’s really, really, really impressive," she added. "You guys are already living your best life.”
When Stroumboulopoulos asked her about getting older, she feigned indignation and then said she’s proud to be almost 59. (Her birthday is Tuesday, January 29.) “You deny yourself and your own spirit when you try to lower your age,” she said. Somebody in the audience starting singing “Happy Birthday” and the whole stadium broke into chorus. “That has never happened before!” she exclaimed, pleased. “That’s a first!”
Singing “Happy Birthday” to Oprah was one of the highlights of the night—and something that I definitely couldn't recreate in my living room. But what I really got out of the evening was this: confirmation that Oprah is the real deal.
At no point did I get the feeling that she was just going through the motions or was anything but sincere. She talked about the same things she’s talked about before, but delivered them with every bit as much conviction and enthusiasm. She was all there, and utterly down-to-earth and accessible. She was 100-percent herself.
“You really want to find a way to get paid for being yourself,” she told the audience earlier, with reference to finding your purpose in life.
Seeing her in person, it’s clear she’s done just that.