Best friends just wanna have fun. Joined at the hip, they like to crawl the mall, club hop during a girls' night out, lounge and luxuriate...
NEW YORK — Best friends just wanna have fun. Joined at the hip, they like to crawl the mall, club hop during a girls’ night out, lounge and luxuriate on spa vacations.
But when your BFF is Oprah Winfrey, the queen — all hail! — of television, fairy godmother to America, benefactor to the world, the gal who out-trumps Trump, fun takes on a whole new dimension.
Imagine it: jetting off to South Africa to cut the ribbon for the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, a 52-acre, state-of-the-art facility. Helping to host the lavish black-tie Legends Ball, hobnobbing with icons such as Diana Ross, Cicely Tyson and Coretta Scott King. Hanging out at your girl’s $50 million, 42-acre Santa Barbara mansion in your own personal suite decorated in your favorite color, yellow.
Welcome to Gayle King’s paradise. Being cast as a world-famous best friend isn’t a bad role, contrary to what people think, King says. She wants to set the record straight for all those people who view her skeptically, like she’s Cinderella’s stepsister. Don’t feel sorry for her because she’s second out of the limo. At least she’s in the limo.
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“The truth is, people know me because I’m Oprah’s best friend and she talks about me,” King says, taking a break from “Oprah & Friends,” her new show on XM Satellite Radio. “I don’t think I’m ‘not as good as’ because I’m her best friend, I never think that. People say, ‘God, it must be so hard … ‘ Well, it really ain’t. It’s afforded me so many opportunities. I’ve gotten to meet people I never would have met, I’ve gotten jobs I would never have.
“I say this all the time: I don’t look at myself as standing in Oprah’s shadow, I see me as standing in her light.”
It’s uncanny how Gayle and Oprah channel each other. Same authoritative alto. Same vocal inflections. Same diamond eternity pinky band. Same passion for shoes — in King’s case a pair of cherry-red patent leather peep toes with heels that add at least four inches to her curvy 5-foot-10 frame.
Five days a week, she interviews newsmakers and chats with listeners on “Oprah & Friends,” the satellite radio station created by Winfrey’s Harpo Radio Inc. She is the editor at large for O Magazine. She also sits on the board of the Oprah Winfrey Foundation and reports freelance stories for “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” She covered the red carpet for Oprah during last month’s Golden Globes.
But her most important job is adviser, confidante and sounding board to the TV host Forbes magazine lists as the richest woman in America.
They talk at least once a day, sometimes twice.
“Isn’t that something? Since I was 21, and she was 22,” King, 51, marvels of their enduring friendship. “I just assumed that everybody had a best friend like that. But I’ve realized that many people don’t have what Oprah and I have … but the people who have a close friend really do get it.”
The oldest of four daughters born to an engineer father and a homemaker mother, King spent a privileged childhood traveling the world. The family eventually settled in Maryland, where, after graduating from the University of Maryland in 1976, King took a lowly job as a production assistant at WJZ in Baltimore, putting scripts in the teleprompter for an young anchor named Oprah Winfrey.
By now the story of how they became friends is lore: During a snowstorm, Winfrey invited King to sleep over at her house rather than make the treacherous 45-minute drive home.
“It was so typical of her. She didn’t know me,” King recalls. “I went, ‘Well, OK, but I don’t have any clothes.’ She said, ‘I have clothes.’
“We wound up talking all night long! It was like we were 13. We found we have very similar philosophies about life and people. And we realized we liked and disliked the same people in the newsroom, which was interesting.”
They both became TV vagabonds. While Winfrey’s star began to ascend in Chicago, King reported and anchored the news at WDAF-TV in Kansas City. Later she anchored at WFSB in Hartford, Conn., for 18 years, except for the one year spent hosting her own failed talk show, “The Gayle King Show,” in 1997.
She made a life for herself there, marrying attorney William Bumpus and giving birth to a daughter, Kirby, and 11 months later a son, Will, before divorcing when the children were young.
King, who has since relocated to Greenwich, Conn., has never remarried. She implies that part of the reason is that men are intimidated by her and her celebrated soul mate. All of this, of course, has led to talk that she and Winfrey have a lesbian relationship, which King herself probably helped stoke by saying last year in O Magazine that if Oprah were a man, she’d date her.
Who wouldn’t? “I’d want somebody who is a big advocate for you. Who’s smart. Who’s funny. Who wants to go places and do things. Yeah, I’d want a man like that, I really would,” King says.
While it is Winfrey who seems larger than life, King lets us in on a secret about her friend: She really isn’t. She just lives large.
Of the two, King is the extrovert, the people person. Last fall, the two attended the Black Movie Awards in Los Angeles, where Winfrey presented a career achievement award to Cicely Tyson.
“Oprah wasn’t feeling so great, so after she presented, she goes, ‘I’m leaving,’ ” King says. “She’s flying back to Chicago. And the thing is, I would have liked to take the ride, but I wanted to stay. I was waiting for the after-party and wanted to see the show. Tyler Perry was hosting, and he’s a good friend of mine. So I stayed and I had a good time.”
To clarify: Taking a ride with Winfrey means flying in the billionaire’s private plane. That’s the kind of largesse you enjoy if you’re a pal of Oprah’s.
That brings us to another rumor that King wants to dispel: Winfrey did not, repeat, did not gift her with $1 million so she could be a millionaire too.
She laughs. “I just think that’s funny. One million dollars … She’s been very generous. You see how generous she’s been with strangers, so you know how she must be with me. Let’s just say I live a very, very nice life. A very nice life.”