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Friday, 9 December 2011

Oprah draws enthusiastic GWCC crowd


Here's what happens when O, The Oprah Magazine comes to town:


More than 5,000 people, mostly women, from 47 states and 25 countries outside the U.S. show up at an unholy hour and, with minimal shoving, cram themselves into a convention center to hear Oprah and her sanctioned experts talk about everything from prostitution (Lisa Ling) to power (Oprah).


The O You! tour, which took over Georgia World Congress Center on Saturday, was described by editor-at-large Gayle King as "our way of bringing the magazine to life,"  --  a chance for loyal readers to get a live, condensed version of the monthly advice handed out in the 11-year-old publication.


It was a day reserved for the kind of positive thought and positive action on which media personality Oprah Winfrey's empire has been built. Some attendees said they came for inspiration, some came with personal missions and more than a few simply wanted to see Oprah.


"She has had such a big year the past year," said seven-months pregnant Heather Weeks, 33, who drove from Charlotte, N.C., with her mother, Jean Benfield, 59.


For years they had talked about visiting the Chicago set of Winfrey's show, which ended in May, but they never made it, Benfield said. Weeks, soon to be a mother of three, hoped she might get some tips on getting control of her life. Benfield hoped fitness expert, Bob Greene, would drop just the right pearl to help her lose that stubborn 15 pounds.


King welcomed the audience and introduced keynote speaker Lisa Ling, host of Our America on OWN [Winfrey's cable network]. O Magazine Editor in Chief Susan Casey introduced Suze Orman, Dr. Mehmet Oz and Martha Beck, who each gave a few tips in their areas of expertise (finance, health and life coaching, respectively) and answered audience questions.


The rest of the day unfolded with standing-room-only seminars such as "Finding Your Passion," and "Feeling Better, Looking Better," in which other magazine contributors made appearances, including Greene, columnist Donna Brazile, O creative director Adam Glassman, beauty director Val Monroe, organization expert Peter Walsh and interior designer Nate Berkus.


Just after 3 p.m., Oprah emerged from behind the blinged-out O You! stage for a 45-minute love-fest that was mostly about learning to love yourself. "I am honored by your presence here and I celebrate you as you have come to celebrate yourselves," she said. Winfrey talked about facing each day with fearlessness and the desire to serve, and acknowledged her most recent struggle to combat the fear of creating her own network.


Her new show, "Oprah's Lifeclass," has become the next vehicle in fulfilling her life passion, she said. "I'm on fire about creating the world's biggest classroom," Winfrey said. "I know that is why I was born." She encouraged attendees to honor, celebrate and love the purpose and calling in their lives.


The sendoff resonated with Neissha King, 35, from Fort Benning. As a military wife, King was hoping to find ways to redefine herself after having relocated to the area four months ago. Being in the presence of so many other people seeking the same direction was reassuring, she said. "Going through the classes and seeing that you are not alone, and you are not the only one trying to figure out what you are doing ... you just realize people are people," King said.


For four friends from Marietta, O You! was a personal and emotional day they would never forget.


Tamarine Flatt, 45, Michelle Tisdale, 41, Kelly Wittes, 49, and Kim Dillehay, 47, had to leave their friend Sharon McLaughlin, 43, in Connecticut. McLaughlin is the Oprah follower in the group and the one who wanted them all to attend together, but she is in the midst of battling breast cancer --  caught between chemotherapy and radiation --  and was not up for the trip.


"We are putting together every single thing and collecting everything for her," Tisdale said. "We are doing all the seminars she was going to do." They also got books signed by all of her favorite authors and, though McLaughlin asked them not to call her from the event because she didn't want to feel sad, Wittes took special care to video-record everything so McLaughlin would feel as if she had been there.


In an email to Flatt the night before the event, McLaughlin told her friends to "rock that convention."


And they, along with several thousand other women, did just that.

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