Oprah Winfrey’s ecstatic audience arrived in Sydney this week for their much-hyped tour Down Under with the talk show queen, kicking off a week-long showcase of Australia’s beaches, cities and wildlife.
The 300-odd audience members selected for Oprah’s Ultimate Australian Adventure touched down from the United States early on Tuesday and were greeted by a throng of media and local fans.
“They are probably the most excited people there are,” said an Oprah crew member who travelled with the audience, adding that there had been a lot of excited screaming on the long-haul flight.
Aged between 18 and 75, the audience members beamed and waved as they walked through the arrivals gate, jubilant at being picked for Oprah’s first and only film shoot outside the United States for the final season of her hit talk show.
Boston woman Jocelyn Kelley, who was travelling with her mother Gloria, said she “would never in a million years think I would be going to Australia.”
“And with Oprah – it’s unbelievable. It’s an unbelievable experience and I just want to soak in every bit of it,” Kelley told local media.
“To be in that audience, to be a part of something so big, is just amazing.”
Added her mother: “We are so excited; it’s so wonderful to be in Australia.”
Orlando Bogins, from Detroit said his mother had wept when he told her he had been picked for Oprah’s Australia tour.
“It came at such a very hard time in my life – my mum had nine hours (of) surgery, I was laid off from my job and my house had been broken into,” said Bogins.
“That I was selected to do something such as this, I would have never thought little bitty ol’ me would ever have this opportunity,” he added.
Some said they had been to Australia before but others were making their first trip and hoped to see sights such as the Great Barrier Reef and Sydney’s Opera House – to be renamed the “Oprah House” for the occasion.
“Everyone keeps telling me to bring a kangaroo back, but obviously I can’t do that,” joked one woman.
“It’s a dream come true,” enthused another.
The fans and crew were whisked to an inner-city hotel for a briefing on their tightly guarded itinerary, which is reported to feature a climb of Sydney’s Harbour Bridge, said to be lit up for the visit with a big pink “O.”
Winfrey is due to arrive in Sydney on her private jet later in the week and will reportedly host a welcome party for her audience in the city’s harbour-side Botanic Gardens on Saturday.
The only confirmed event on her schedule is the recording of two episodes of her show in the forecourt of the Sydney Opera House on December 14 in front of 12,000 Australian fans.
Tourism Minister Martin Ferguson said the 302 audience members would split into groups to explore the vast continent and experience “the best Australian tourism has to offer” including pristine reefs, tropical rainforests, rolling vineyards and the majestic monolith Uluru in the nation’s desert centre.
“They will have the opportunity to experience the ancient culture and customs of our first Australians (Aborigines) as well as visiting historic sites from our colonial past,” Ferguson said.
Australian food and wine will feature heavily on all the tours and visitors would be offered surfing lessons, nature walks, snorkelling and beachside barbecues for “a taste of the Australian way of life.”
The country’s unique wildlife will also play a “starring role,” he added, with the cities of Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney to feature on the Oprah show’s itinerary.
Winfrey will reportedly meet Prime Minister Julia Gillard in Melbourne on Friday, where she is tipped to greet fans in the city’s Federation Square.
Australia paid US$2.3 million to lure Winfrey, ranked the world’s most powerful celebrity by Forbes magazine this year ahead of actress Angelina Jolie and singer Beyonce Knowles.