Oprah in Ottawa: It’s a perfect fit

 

Oh, how they loved her.

Close to 15,000 fans came to Scotiabank Place to see and hear Oprah, that media empire in heels. They loved her, and she loved them back.

From the opening moment through to the end of the show, Oprah made the word “Ottawa” into a song, long holding the note on the final syllable each time.

In exchange, the crowd was willing to do anything for her, like offering her their own shoes. At the end of the formal speech and just as she sat down for a question and answer period with CBC personality George Stroumboulopoulos, she told the crowd her feet were killing her because of her stiletto-heeled shoes.

“Who wears a size 10½?” she asked, and got many screaming answers of “Me!”

“No, I’m not going to do it,” she said. She wouldn’t take anyone’s shoes, but she still gave hers away. The lucky winner was former Ottawa radio host Sandy Sharkey, who was the crowd and approached the stage when she heard the size.

“I just happened to be a 10½,” she said a few moments later at her seat, holding the pair of shiny purple Manolo Blahniks on her lap.

That size might not be the most common, but in a filled hockey arena in which probably upwards of 90 per cent of the audience was female, there was an endless supply — just as there were some very empty men’s washrooms.

Speaking of washrooms, Oprah’s well-produced talk, which she gave in Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton earlier this year, included a mix of inspirational moments, an occasional bit of singing and some very effective stand-up comedy — including a bit about celebrity peeing.

The moment she knew she was really a celebrity, Oprah told the crowd, was the time when a group of women were waiting for her outside a bathroom stall.

With impressive comedic timing, she described her plans to try to do her business without being heard.

In the end, it came down to “flush fast and pee hard.”

When she emerged from the stall, she got a round of applause of the kind people don’t usually get past the age of three.

Oprah also took the audience through her personal story, from terrible poverty in Mississippi to her current success.

“When I came into the world, nobody was excited,” she said.

Her own father told her that she would never have been born if her mother hadn’t been wearing an irresistible poodle skirt the day they met. Her parents had an interlude under an oak tree and it was the only time they were together.

Oprah endured childhood sex abuse, teen pregnancy (the child didn’t survive) and a well-meaning grandmother who told her to find “some good white folks” to work for one day.

But Oprah, who believes gratitude is the force that changes lives, has embraced her story, choosing to be grateful for her odds-defying chance to enter the world.

“Thank the Lord for poodle skirts,” she told the Ottawa crowd.

Through the stories, the performer and Chicago business tycoon hammered at her central themes: that everyone’s life matters, everyone can tap into greatness, and giving to others is what makes everything worthwhile.

The messages, which she’s been giving since the 1990s, when she changed her show from the sensational and confrontational to something more focused on self-discovery, have created a very loyal fan base, which clearly has devotees in Ottawa.

Sheila O’Grady, 57, who just retired from her job as a tax auditor with the Canada Revenue Agency, said Oprah has been genuinely important in her life.

“I was a victim of childhood sexual abuse, and I’m a breast cancer survivor. A lot of the shows she did helped me work through my issues,” O’Grady said.

On the abuse, Oprah helped O’Grady learn that “you can step out of your past and you don’t have to let it rule your life.”

And in terms of health, O’Grady said she and her husband, Glenn Borthwick, who bravely joined her at the show, have both changed their lifestyles because of Oprah.

Bonnie Bowie, a 54-year-old manager at Bell Canada, came with her daughter Taryn, 22.

Mother and daughter, who for years watched the show together, said there was no question they would buy tickets.

“We would have been willing to go all the way to Chicago,” Bonnie said, adding that Oprah’s tackling of tough subjects made it easier for her to talk to her daughters about some subjects.

In Grade 9, Taryn chose Oprah as her subject in public speaking.

“She got an A,” remembered her mother.

And Mony Dojeiji, 47, came to the show with a copy of the book that she says Oprah inspired her to write. Thirteen years ago, the Ottawa native left a good job in the U.S. as a marketer with Microsoft because, after watching Oprah, she realized that life “has to have more meaning that just selling software.”

Dojeiji, who now lives in Ottawa again, travelled the world, met her husband, and recently wrote Walking for Peace: An Inner Journey.

Whether or not that book benefits from the magic touch of Oprah’s recommendations, the TV baroness is likely to at least appreciate the sentiment.

“Honour the calling,” Oprah told the crowd several times. “You are here because you have so much to give.”

Connect with Zev Singer |zsinger@ottawacitizen.com