Insights into an icon

2010-06-23 00:00

BOOK REVIEW

Oprah: A Biography

Kitty Kelley

Jonathan Ball

THE queen of TV and the queen of the unauthorised biography — it’s a headline-grabbing combination, and so Kitty Kelley’s expos é of Oprah ­Winfrey has got a lot of media attention. Most of that attention has ­focused on the fact that Kelley doesn’t expose ­anything particularly new or startling.

This fails to acknowledge Kelley’s true intent, which was not to dig new dirt on Oprah, but rather to explore her character. And this she does ­extremely well.

The hoopla and hype that surrounds any new Kitty Kelley book is so great that one tends to forget what she in fact is, which is a scrupulous, worldy-wise and very good biographer. She names all her sources; she triple-checks her facts; she does what a biographer ought to do, which is to try to see things through her subject’s eyes.

So Kelley serves Winfrey very well.

Any intelligent person of course knows that someone in the public eye must develop a persona that is not a full reflection of their true selves, that no one can reach the power Oprah has by being a nice person, and that everyone has their off days. And Kitty Kelley is a very intelligent person. As she chronicles her subject’s rise from bossy nobody to megalomaniacal media mogul, she always keeps her ­finger firmly on the fairness button — difficult task though it often is.

I used to be an Oprah fan, but then all the self-love and the trite philosophies got a bit much. I became bored. Kitty Kelley tells me exactly how this happened, with lots of behind-the-scenes juicy details.

That’s all I wanted from this book. A towering work of literature? No. An insight into how the greatest dumb-downer of our generation’s mind works? Yes.

Kitty Kelley has never let me down. From the British royal family to Frank Sinatra, she has always made me think again about our icons. She does it again with Oprah. And she does it, believe it or not, with integrity.

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