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When Hilary met Oprah

The award-winning news anchor tells us what the media mogul is really like

By Alice O'Connell

It was a moment Hilary Barry had only in her wildest dreams imagined actually taking place. And yet there she was, in Los Angeles, about to sit down with someone of whom she is a huge fan – the one and only Oprah Winfrey.

So, the much-loved TV3 news presenter decided to approach the situation the only way she knows how – with complete openness and honesty.

“I walked in and broke the ice by just being honest and saying, ‘I’m really nervous interviewing the queen of broadcasting!’ And she said, ‘Give me your hands!’” Hilary tells, laughing as she mimics Oprah’s enthusiastic sing-song voice. “So, she’s there holding my hands and she goes, ‘Are you okay now?’ And I say [her voice trembling up an octave] ‘Yes, thanks!’ But I was. She just immediately put me at ease. She called me Hils! And did I mention, she held my hands?!”

It had been months in the making, this 30-minute sit-down with the former talk-show host who is due in New Zealand next month for a one-off show at Auckland’s Vector Arena. And for Hilary, it was a whirlwind half hour that she walked out of feeling stunned, and – if possible – an even bigger fan of the media mogul than before.

“I had a producer with me and we kept our composure until we left her studios and we’d got out of our cab. No one was watching and we both just went, ‘Omigod, that just happened!’ and danced around like a couple of giggly school girls. I mean, as you would be! C’mon, it’s Oprah!” On returning to work in the TV3 offices, everyone had the same questions – such as “What is she really like? Is she like she is on TV?”

“She absolutely is,” confirms Hilary (45). “For me too, I really wanted to get a sense of whether she was the person I thought she was in my head from what I’ve read and seen of her. Well, I can tell you, she is the real deal. She is truly authentic. She spoke about making people feel special, from the person she orders her coffee from in the morning to everyone she meets through the day.”

Hilary says she got a sense of that from watching the hive of activity at her television studios, where the crew really did seem to have an honest rapport with Oprah (61). She may be one of the planet’s wealthiest women, but from what Hilary saw, she’s certainly no diva. If things needed to be done, Oprah is happy to do them herself.

“Before the interview got underway, everything was running a little late,” tells Hilary. “Our interview was supposed to start at 2pm and she was saying to one of her assistants that she was worried about making her next meeting. She said to me, ‘I have a meeting at 3pm – do you think I can move that? I can move that, can’t I?’ And I said to her, ‘I think you probably can. You’re Oprah.’” So, Oprah then called the person in question herself and asked if it would be possible to move their meeting. “She talks for a bit and then she gets off the phone and says to me, ‘You’re right, that was fine! I could change it.’

“I was really surprised by how warm and chatty she was – I would have thought at that level of fame, there would be a level of standoffishness. It’s like meeting the Queen, for goodness sake. But she’s very demonstrative, grabs your hands, gives you a hug and is so genuinely warm, it’s disarming.” Hilary laughs, “God, I have such a girl crush, don’t I?”

While she doesn’t want to give too much away about the content of her interview, Hilary can share a few selected secrets with the Weekly. Oprah is apparently excited about her upcoming visit to New Zealand and told Hilary she is well aware how beautiful our country is, and is hoping to see some of it while she is here. The purpose of her visit is to catch up with her friends – her supporters, viewers of her show and readers of her magazine – to say hello and share some stories.

“I think it’s her saying, ‘Thanks for watching for all those years, so I want to come and see you,’” reveals Hilary.

As well as speaking at length about Oprah’s philosophies on philanthropy, the chat also reiterated to Hilary the moral codes that she has tried to live her own life by – being considerate to others and always authentic. Having taken on a new role this year, co-hosting Paul Henry in the mornings, Kiwis have learned a great deal more about who Hilary really is. It’s her early-morning job that allows her to inject more of her own personality than the 3 News bulletin at 6pm permits.

“You do feel a bit cloistered, being all prim, proper and serious,” she admits of her 6pm news slot. ”My natural self isn’t as serious.”

Girl crush! The Kiwi mum-of-two says Oprah used to be required viewing for her when she was a nursing mother. In fact, advice given on one of those shows continues to be helpful to her family.
Girl crush! The Kiwi mum-of-two says Oprah used to be required viewing for her when she was a nursing mother. In fact, advice given on one of those shows continues to be helpful to her family.

When she watches herself on telly, she does have moments where she cringes at things she’s said, wondering if it’s too much, or the wrong thing, before simply accepting that’s just who she is – “a bit giggly, goofy and stupid at times!”

“Even watching my interview with Oprah, I was cringing, but then I remembered her philosophies and thought, ‘Let it go.’ That’s a take home message for all of us, isn’t it? Don’t squirm and cringe about what you think other people think about you, just be your authentic self – warts and all!”

For Hilary, it’s meant she’s put herself out there more this year, with Paul Henry even surprised – and impressed – when she’s offered up personal tales, such as last month’s admission that she’d put on 28kg during her first pregnancy.

“I thought, ‘I wonder if I should have talked about that?’ But then, if one pregnant person was listening, worrying she may have perhaps put on a few too many kilos, then I’m glad I shared.”
But it was during that pregnancy, and the one that followed, that Hilary became an avid viewer of Oprah. “I loved those makeover shows,” she admits, “sitting there with baby sick on your shoulder, you’re still in your jimmy-jams and need a shower, but you see this show and you’re like, ‘Oh, there is hope!’”

There were also shows that changed the way she parented. One episode in particular made a lasting impression.

“It had an expert who said that when you have children, the best thing you can do for those children is for them to grow up knowing that they don’t come first – that your partner comes first and that they come second,” she tells. “At first I thought, ‘That’s a bit controversial, but it’s great advice.’ And from that one thing alone, my kids have known that my husband comes first – and vice versa. I really do think that’s been good for them.”

It’s one of many nuggets she says she garnered from watching over the years, and now, she’s looking forward to hearing the stories Oprah has to share on her New Zealand visit. “She’s a woman who has a way of telling a story like no other. She is truly engaging – when she’s sitting right opposite you, telling you these stories, it’s like you’re the only two in the room. I was captivated. It’s going to be one heck of a show.”

So what would the beloved TV host do if she had the chance to be Oprah for a day?

“Well, she seems to have some quite nice houses around the world, so I’d jump on a private jet and go explore those!” laughs Hilary. “Forget the philanthropy for the day, she’s got that under control, I’d like to take advantage of some of the more shallow aspects of her life – go swim in her swimming pool, get her personal chef to make me something for lunch, invite all my friends over, I’d share the love.”

When Hilary Met Oprah is available for viewing on 3NOW.

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