After 14 years of marriage to Oprah's father Vernon, Barbara Winfrey is being forced out of her marital home by Oprah, leaving her homeless. In part one of T̶h̶e̶ ̶D̶a̶i̶l̶y̶ ̶M̶a̶i̶l̶ ONTD'S exclusive interview, Mrs. Winfrey laid bare the truth about the talk queen's belittling treatment of her and Vernon, Oprah's father. Here, in part two, she gives the inside story of Oprah, Stedman Graham and Gayle King.
It has never been a relationship noted for displays of passion. Across 28 years of dating Oprah and Stedman Graham could never stand accused of having publicly sizzled. But on this particular evening there were fireworks all right, just not the sort either could have enjoyed. It was the eve of Stedman’s nephew’s wedding some eight years ago, said Barbara Winfrey, 66, the ex-wife of Oprah's father Vernon.‘Stedman was going to be best man but they argued and his nephew didn’t want him anymore.
‘He turned to Oprah and said something like, “I don’t know why you’re still with him. He’s no good."’ At that all hell broke loose. In the argument that followed Oprah, now 60, revealed detailed knowledge of Stedman’s life, his movements and who he was spending his time with when she wasn’t around. Barbara said: ‘She told Stedman a member of her security team had told her. When he asked, “How come this guy knows everything about my life?”, she said “That’s what I pay people to know.” She had had him followed I don’t know for how long.
Once you’re in Oprah’s world, she owns you,’ says Barbara, who feels she was belittled and betrayed by Oprah who is kicking her out of the home she shared with Vernon for 14 years. Stedman and Oprah continued their argument in the SUV on the way to the wedding rehearsal dinner that night, Barbara said, leaving everyone waiting on their late arrival. But she added, ‘After that it all returned to normal as far as anyone else could see.’
Yet what passes for normal is, to outside observers, anything but, as Stedman, 63, forms part of a strange tripod of co-dependence (CACKLING) consisting of him, Oprah and Gayle King, 59. Oprah’s relationships with Stedman and Gayle have long been the subject of much puzzled speculation. Oprah began dating Stedman in 1986 but, according to Barbara, in all the times she saw them together she never once witnessed them hold hands or kiss. They danced and they were clearly fond of each other, she said. ‘He was comfortable like an old shoe, to her. They stayed in the same room when they were here but he didn’t live with her exactly.
‘He travels so much; he would fly here and there to her. He’s at her beck and call.’ She added, ‘I think in the beginning it was different. Vernon told me how one time he was driving and Oprah was taking Stedman to meet family in Mississippi. He said she was running her hands through his hair the whole trip, till he was so fed up he was ready to put her out of the car. ‘She wanted to get married at first but he wasn’t so keen.
Then she became this powerful person and things changed, the balance switched.’ Nowhere could that be clearer than on the occasion when, according to Barbara, Oprah ensured a book written by Stedman made it onto the bestseller list. She claimed that the star bought a warehouse and filled it with Stedman’s books. ‘It worked,’ she said, ‘His book was a bestseller. ‘Stedman isn’t a good steward of money and that suits Oprah fine. He is financially dependent on her. He knows her secrets and she knows his. ‘Why would they marry now? He’s there at her beck and call. He knows his role in her life.’ And just as importantly he understands Gayle’s role in Oprah’s life. Barbara said.
‘Gayle is very, very present. I don’t know any man I’ve ever dated who could tolerate that, but Stedman knows Gayle’s going nowhere. ‘They speak on the phone three or four times a day. She believes Oprah and Gayle's relationship is 'unhealthy'. 'Once Oprah took us on a Mediterranean cruise,' Barbara explained. 'That was an amazing thing she did. She rented a $30million yacht and went on an 11-day cruise.’ If Barbara had hoped that she and her stepdaughter might bond across relaxing days in the sun she was sorely mistaken.
She said: ‘She’s very flamboyant. We had meals three times a day, three courses, different place settings, different cutlery, glassware, different everything three times a day but she never talked to me and Vernon. ‘She didn’t spend any time with us. It was always her, Stedman and Gayle. The three of them. Anytime you looked up they were together. To me it was just bizarre.’ Of course Barbara is well aware that there has been speculation as to the nature of Oprah and Gayle’s friendship. She said, ‘I can only say what I saw and observed over the years. Gayle was more present than Stedman.’
Frequently, she said, Oprah’s communications to her or Vernon, now 81, were delivered through Gayle. When notorious biographer Kitty Kelly was working on a book about Oprah and interviewed her father in his barber’s shop it was Gayle who called to berate first Barbara, then Vernon. And when Oprah spoke of herself as part of a couple, the ‘we’ in question more often referred to her and Gayle, than her and Stedman. Barbara said: ‘The day I called to tell her that her father had been held up at gunpoint in his barber’s shop her response was, “Well, I expect him to be found dead in there one day.” ‘I asked her why she would say something so cold, she said, “Coz it’s true. Gayle and I have already discussed it and we’ve accepted that.” ‘That’s how it was with them.'
‘Sometimes I believe that Oprah is more dependent on Gayle than the other way round. I don’t know what she would do without her friendship and if it’s not more than friendship then they’re certainly giving every appearance that it is. ‘But don’t forget, Oprah has her brand to live up to and her father is a very conservative, traditional man. He’s a deacon of his church. He always thought she should get married.’ Oprah’s highly public, lifelong struggle with her wildly fluctuating weight, is linked to her effort to ‘be’ the brand according to Barbara.
She said, ‘She’s a stress eater. Food is her comfort. Potatoes are her downfall, potatoes, potato chips…any kind of potato.
‘But you rarely saw Oprah fix a plate of food and eat it at the table with everybody else. ‘If she joined you she would pick at other people’s plates. If she saw something she wanted she’d just take it straight off their plate and wouldn’t even ask.’ The star would frequently instruct Stedman to make a doggy bag of food to take away rather than enjoy it in company. She reflected, ‘Nobody can live up to being Oprah. She’s human like I’m human. She’s not perfect.
Given her unenviable position today it might seem surprising to hear Barbara express sympathy for Oprah, yet she does, repeatedly. ‘She tells the world what to do but she’s in inner turmoil. Everybody thinks she has all the answers but she needs to sit down with Dr Phil.’ She continued, ‘Vernon often told me that he thought if Oprah could change the color of her skin she would - she’d make it lighter.’
Barbara recalled an occasion on which she, Oprah and Stedman had been out walking their dogs, Solomon, a brown cocker spaniel and Sophie, a black dog of the same breed. ‘I told her it suddenly struck me how she looked like Sophie and he looked like Solomon – like owners come to resemble their dogs. Oprah said, “No. I look more like Solomon. HE looks more like Sophie.” I hadn’t meant it to be a slight about color but that’s how she took it.’
It’s hard to believe Barbara made the remark in wide-eyed innocence, oblivious to the fact that telling your stepdaughter she looks like a dog might be taken as a slight. Still, she insisted, ‘Color was a real thing for her. It’s one of the things she liked about Stedman. He has what we call ‘high yellow’ skin and soft hair. He’s very pale complexioned and she liked that.’
The cover of next month’s edition of her eponymous magazine, ‘O: The Oprah Magazine’ shows the star, resplendent in Purple alongside the promise, ‘How to Love the Skin You’re In', but according to Barbara, that is something Oprah herself has never quite managed to achieve. That unhappiness plays a part, she said, in the bitter denouement of her divorce from Vernon. It explains, to some extent, Oprah’s need to insert and assert herself in any of it. She said, ‘She’s a billionaire three times over, doesn’t it seem so petty? ‘If I could I’d like to tell her how sad it is she never took the time to get to know me as a woman. I would still be married to Vernon I think, if she had. ‘To me it’s just such a sad story at the end of the day.’