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  • Sara Morgan-Beckett (humorous essay)

A Night At The Oprah

I’m a self-confessed TV addict, always have been. From Reality to drama I’m there, lapping up every staged second. I have many favourite TV moments; Obama’s inauguration, the Sopranos finale, Verne Troyer drunk and naked on a scooter on The Surreal Life. But the stand out moment for me is Tom Cruise jumping on a couch declaring his love for Katie Holmes on Oprah. It started with classic shouting from Oprah to build the anticipation, “He’s in the BUUUUIIILLLLDINNNG... TOM CRUUUUUUUUUUUUUIIIISE.” What followed was a plethora of awkwardness; there’s the over the top hugging, Tom grabbing and shaking Oprah’s shoulders, the violent clasping of each other’s hands all accompanied by contorted faces of coat hanger smiles. You can tell the overexcitement is getting to Tom in the most unfortunate of ways. The fist-pumping, the crouching on the floor to punch it, the unexpected terrifying bursts of laughter all in the lead up to that “uh-oh” moment.

Oprah tries her best to accommodate the insanity of Tom,“The boy has gone,” she says. But it only makes him worse and finally it all gets too much for him and he jumps on the couch. I can’t remember the last time I got so excited I jumped on a couch. I wonder at what moment Tom thought that the only way to convey his glee was to plant both feet up on the seat. It’s a wonderfully horrific display that will never cease to amuse me, made all the better by the fact it was in front of Oprah Gail Winfrey. Oprah. The most influential woman on the planet, the richest woman in America, the first female black billionaire. She hosted the most successful talk-show in history, she has a magazine named after her, she even has an effect named after her. She has her own TV network and she’s an Oscar nominated actress. So when I was given the chance to be in the same room as her I nearly jumped on my couch.

“Do you want to come with me to the Bafta screening of The Butler?” Jacqui called to ask me. “There’s a Q&A afterwards; Oprah, Forest Whittaker, Cuba Gooding Jnr, and Terence Howard will all be there.”

“You had me at Oprah,” I said.

And so that Sunday afternoon I met Jacqui and we headed to the screening on West 23rd Street. The sun was beaming down, frying us as we stood in the queue and my back started to ache.

“You ok?” Jacqui asked.

“Yeah fine,” I said leaning on the rail behind me. “I’ll need to sit at the end of the row in case I need the bathroom, I can’t really get past people with this bump.”

Being 9 months pregnant the idea of sitting anywhere for 2 hours without easy access to a toilet filled me with dread.

“No problem,” said Jacqui, empathising. “We’ll get you a good seat.”

When the doors opened 30 minutes later we were checked off a list and sent through to the auditorium. Jacqui headed straight to the front of the room.

“Let’s sit here,” she said, gesturing to the end of a middle row, right in front of the stage. I was at the very end in the disabled seat. I secretly hoped no one more disabled than a 9 month pregnant woman wheeled in.

After two visits to the bathroom, “Lee Daniel’s The Butler” began. It’s an epic story of a butler called Cecil Gaines played by Forrest Whitaker. A true story spanning almost 100 years, The Civil Rights movement of the 60s is a focal point. I cried, stifling sobs so that Jacqui wouldn’t think me a complete baby. Still, at times, my chest involuntarily convulsed, my eyes streamed and my nose ran. As the film ended and the house lights went up, rapturous applause rang through the room. The room began to settle as 10 chairs were placed on the stage. A man introduced himself as a producer and tonight’s host and told us that the cast was about to appear. Out onto the stage walked Lee Daniels, Terence Howard, Brit actor David Oyelowo, Forest Whitaker, Lenny Kravitz, Cuba Gooding Jnr, and Oprah Winfrey. My face beamed as I clapped; Oprah had arrived. Two producers joined them and sat the far end of the stage from us. Sitting directly in front of Jacqui and myself was Terence, David, Forest and Oprah. The host introduced everyone and began the Q&A. Forest being the lead, was asked about playing this real life character. An earnest answer followed about how, through the film, the weight Cecil Gaines’ life experience changed the demeanor and voice Forest used to play him. David Oyelowo plays Cecil’s son, he endearingly told us that he was still overwhelmed by having Oprah and Forest as his on-screen parents. Then Oprah was asked about returning to the big screen after 15 years. I sat taller in my seat.

“This is your first lead in 15 years Oprah,”

“No, Forest is the lead,” she corrected.

“Were you looking for a role?” the host asked.

“No, I was a little busy running a network,” she joked without a hint of arrogance.

"But I read the story and just had to be involved.”

A few more questions followed before it was thrown out to the audience. The first question came from a woman with a European accent I couldn’t place.

"I noticed dat in evarey scene you gave Oprah zomething to use in her handz, vhy vas dat?"

"Oprah talks with her hands,” said Lee. “She’s always doing something interesting with her hands so I wanted to make the most of that.”

“I didn’t know that I did that,” said Oprah with a look of wonder on her face.

More questions followed about the Civil Rights Movement, who signed on for the film first, and the fact that it was 4 hours long and had to be cut to 2. Slowly I found myself not listening. This had nothing to do with my level of interest but everything to do with the fact I had raised my arm to ask a question myself. Out of nowhere, I had a very clear thought in my head; I was going to ask a question and Oprah was going to speak to me. My old BBC training and journalistic instinct kicked in. I had turned up as an audience member and suddenly I wanted in on the action. My mind raced through what I wanted to say and how I could pose a question which would illicit a response from Queen Oprah. One thing stood in my way, the host was sitting the far end of the stage and couldn’t see me. It was at this point I noticed Terence Howard looking at me, his microphone outstretched. He had a playful look on his face as he encouraged me to come and collect it. This presented me with another problem; there would be no delicate skip across the mere 6 feet to the stage to get the mic. My getting out of my seat would require some hoisting on my part and then a meaty stagger to the stage, my bulbous belly taking the lead. The microphone retrieval had to be a certainty for me to not look like a pregnant arse if I was to get to the stage before the Q&A had moved on or, worse still, ended. The second time I put my hand up and Terence motioned over, Jacqui noticed.

"I’ll get it," she said.

And with that her enviably dainty frame hopped over to Terence and she was back in the time it would have taken me to stand up.

"Here you go."

Suddenly the mic was in my hand, Terence was smiling at me, Jacqui was nudging me. The host had picked another member of the audience further back who had begun to ask a question no one could hear. Terence was pointing over at me, I realised it was now or never.

“Well, I have a microphone so I guess I’m next,” I said into the mic with surprising confidence. A mild titter ran through the room. “Firstly let me congratulate you all on a flawless film. You made a heavily pregnant woman cry many times.” More tittering. I felt my voice about to crack but I steeled myself by remembering how much I love a microphone and continued. “The costumes are incredible. I wanted to ask you how much they influenced your performances.” Pause. “I especially liked the 80s jumpsuits.”

Louder tittering from the audience. I had done it, my question was out there. I’d even managed to be charmingly British and mildly amusing. I had been careful to leave the question open as I didn’t want to offend the rest of the cast by focusing on Oprah. But surely a question about costumes had to be Oprah’s bag. I waited to see who would respond.

“Well we couldn’t have done it without them,” It was Oprah! She took up the baton and ran with it. “In one of the party scenes there was so much polyester, sparks were flying.” She got the biggest laugh with that one. I hoped Oprah would appreciate the way I set ‘em up for her to knock ‘em out the park. What a great double act we were. I started to lose consciousness again as I realised that OPRAH WAS LOOKING AT ME. I immediately lost the next part of her answer in the same way I instantly forget directions. Finally I reentered the room and my body in time to hear her say, “Death to polyester.”

The audience laughed approvingly and with that Jacqui returned the mic to Terence and I tried to come down off the high that had me brushing the ceiling. Mine was the last question of the night. Thanks to Terence Howard and Jacqui’s light feet I had asked a question and Oprah had answered me. It was like being blessed by a deity. I was buzzing.

The cast were led off stage left to an exit but then turned to come back our way, they were all smiling as they passed us. David Oyelowo stopped in his tracks when he saw me. “Arrrrggghhh!” he said with hands outstretched to my belly. “I love hearing British accents.” And he grabbed me for a huge embrace. I hugged him back like a long lost friend, united in our Britishness.

“You were brilliant,” I managed before the flow of cast members swept him on.

“Oh my God,” said Jacqui. “That was amazing.”

“I know,” I said. “What a night! That couldn’t have gone better. And I got a hug.” I found myself beaming all the way out of the building.“You know what,” I said. “Because she spoke to me while I’m pregnant, I feel like the baby’s been touched by the hand of Oprah.”

“You’ve certainly been touched by the hand of David,” said Jacqui.

I went home and had three contractions that night which kept me awake until 2am. I worried that the excitement of meeting the world’s most influential woman had brought on labour. Finally I slept and put it down to Braxton Hicks contractions, a sure sign that we’ll soon be welcoming the arrival of Oprah Morgan-Beckett.

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