My Trip to Australia with Oprah!December 5th – 15th, 2010(Set to Aboriginal Didgeridoo music)
Sometime in 2009 I made a Vision Board with a picture of Oprah and I on it. I have wanted to meet her for a very long time and tell her how much she has made a difference in my life. I always knew I would meet her someday, but I never thought we would go on vacation to the other side of the world together. (Please note that the following photo was the subject of much ridicule from friends and family.)
In July 2010 , Oprah’s website was asking for people to write in and say why they were an Ultimate Viewer. I sent the picture from my vision board and talked about how I have admired Oprah for a very long time. I told them how I had been trying to get tickets to a show forever, and how I even wrote in and begged and pleaded for tickets before I left Milwaukee to move to Phoenix. I knew once I moved here it would be much harder for me to get to a taping if I were even lucky enough to get tickets. I also talked about how she is an inspiration to me and to the world, and that she is living proof that if you put your mind to something, you can make it happen. I also talked about how authentic and genuine of a person I believe she is.
In late August I received a phone call from a producer who asked me several questions about my life and why I think I’m an Ultimate Viewer. I was so nervous talking with her on the phone . Before we got off the phone, she said that I might get a call at some point during the year and to please not tell anyone that she had spoken with me.The next day I received a phone call asking if I could be at a taping in Chicago on September 9th.I almost didn’t go. I was just starting a new job and was worried about asking for the time off. But after talking to my friend Allison, I knew that I had to go. I called my mom and asked her to go with me, and then booked a ticket to Milwaukee for a quick 24 hour trip in and out. On September 9th, we took the train to Chicago early in the morning. We had no idea what we were about to experience. I was so excited to just finally go to a taping of the Oprah show. That alone was a dream come true for me.
My mom and I in line for the show, having no idea what was about to transpire!
“We are going to Australia!”Here is the link to the announcement:http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Oprahs-Surprise-for-Her-Ultimate-Viewers-Video
December 5th, 2010 Sydney-bound! But first, a party at LAX airport for all 302 of us Ultimate Viewers. Time to get to know each other! We were given Qantas pajamas, books about Australia, and our own Motorola phones to use in Australia that were free for our trip to call home, take pictures and videos!
All 302 of us were broken up into smaller groups that would be travelling to different areas of the country. They put us into the groups based on our personalities and travel preferences. Our group was called the Platypus group, and there were 42 of us. We were headed to Byron Bay, an hour’s flight north of Sydney on the easternmost point of Australia. In the middle of a rainforest, it is a beachy coastal town with a world-famous lighthouse and a hippie cultural vibe. We would be doing yoga on the beach, snorkeling or surfing, and basically just chilling out for 3 days. They had me at hippie...
After touching down at the Gold Coast Airport and a beautiful 45-minute bus ride, we pulled into the Byron at Byron, a gorgeous oceanside resort in the heart of the rainforest.After a very lavish welcoming lunch, we were guided to our bungalows. We each had our own – my mom and I were next door to each other. Each one was completely screened in and inside it looked like a modern loft-style apartment. The sounds of the rainforest were at times deafening.It was heaven.
That night, we were treated to a performance by the local aboriginal tribe. They introduced us to their elder, and they taught us dances for the women and the men. The male tribe members played the didgeridoo. It is very intricate instrument to learn how to play – you must be able to inhale and exhale at the same time in order for the sound and vibration to be right.
That night, we were treated to a lavish dinner and learned more about aboriginal culture. They get all of their food from the rainforest, and only take what they need. They only kill an animal if they absolutely have to, and they will use every part of its body for some purpose. They use a lot of the plants and fruits from the forest as food, and once again, they only take what they need. We learned about the medicinal properties of all of the plants and life in the rainforest.
We met for breakfast and had the choice of going surfing, snorkeling, kayaking with the dolphins or travelling to a place called the Crystal Castle. We were going to go snorkeling, but the waters were choppy and we decided to go to the Crystal Castle instead. Best decision ever – it was a magical place! It is a beautiful garden/retreat center filled with crystals and statues of various deities from numerous religions and worldly viewpoints. We were also very fortunate to be there at a time when there were Tibetan Monks visiting.
After our time at the Lighthouse, our bus took us to downtown Byron Bay. We were surprised and thrilled to find out that the entire city was there waiting for us and celebrating us being there. There were acrobats, fire-eaters, jugglers, drum circles and the like all performing for us as we got off the bus.
Out for dinner at Fishheads in downtown Byron Bay
These were our group leaders – we called them the “Blue Shirts”. They guided our every move. Some work for an event company in Chicago, others work for Tourism Australia. They were wonderful and fun people!
After planting the trees, we were led to an area that had towels, yoga mats and little pillows laid on the ground. We had a 30-minute sound meditation with an aboriginal tribe walking around burning sage and playing the didgeridoo up and down our bodies.
During dinner, an Indian woman came to the front of the tent and it looked as though she was going to say a prayer or blessing or maybe sing a song. Turns out she was a foul-mouthed comedian who came in second place for Australia’s Got Talent. She was bitter that she lost “to a little girl who sang ‘Somewhere Over the F-ing Rainbow”. She was completely deadpan and took us all by surprise. We were crying with laughter over the things coming out of her mouth! I wish I had it on tape to share. She was so funny. Sandy Gandhi – www.sandygandhi.com.
After Sandy’s performance, Olivia made her way around the tent chatting with all of us. She was so sweet and so gracious!
This woman looked like she was going to say a blessing or some sort of prayer before we started our meal. We were so surprised when she started talking and we found out she was a foul-mouthed comedian. Turns out she came in 2nd place in Australia’s Got Talent. (something she was very comically bitter about)…
We started to hear drum beats out in the distance. Down the hill aways, a bright red marching band was making their way towards us. The energy we could feel as the sounds got closer was truly amazing. We all gathered outside the tent, watching them arrive. Once they got close to us, they stopped for a brief moment before starting to beat and bang away. They were like a high-energy travelling gypsy band – Olivia grabbed a cowbell and started dancing with them. Then the cowbell started getting passed around the group and whoever was holding it had to go out and dance. I like to describe the feeling as absolute freedom and a completely out-of-the-box, soul-stirring, crazy-fun sense of bliss.
Afterwards, we had a performance from Olivia where she sang a song from her new album Grace and Gratitude. She then started singing Xanadu, which was one of my favorite songs when I was a kid – I used to rollerskate in my basement to it! Here is me singing with her.
Video of us at Gaia: http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Ultimate-Viewers-Spend-a-Day-at-Gaia-Spa-Video Video of Byron Bay:http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Ultimate-Viewers-Get-Rejuvenated-in-Byron-Bay-Video
That evening we were told that our most special event would be happening. Many times we did not know what the plans would be, we would only be told what kind of clothes to wear. Tonight would be our dressiest event.
As we gathered in the hotel lobby that evening, one of the Blue Shirts came up to my mom and I and said that when everyone else got on the bus, we should stay behind because we would be going seperately. We weren’t told why we were being seperated, but we knew it was something big. I was so nervous – would we be getting picked up in a limo with Oprah in it? Would we be sitting at a dinner table with her? What was going on? There were two other couples that were held back as well. One of the couples was Samuel and Mary, two friends from California. Samuel was highlighted on the Oprah show because he learned how to swim before he took this vacation. He was shown snorkeling during our time in Byron Bay.We ended up getting on a bus all by ourselves. Wracked with nerves, we could barely talk to each other on the drive to wherever it was we were going.
Turns out we were going to a cocktail reception at the Royal Botanic Gardens of Sydney for Oprah’s official introduction to the city. We were pulled aside and told we would be walking the red carpet with Oprah herself. About a minute later Oprah started walking towards us.I was able to shake her hand and say hello. I couldn’t even get the words ‘My name is Julie’ out of my mouth. It was surreal. We then followed her down the red carpet as she stopped to talk to several different TV stations lined up to interview her. Here are a few links to some news videos:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-zNjK0Uimwhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f70jmSc895o
That night we were treated to dinner in the “Rocks” section of Sydney. We all were able to get back together with our Platypus family and enjoy dinner and a party afterwards in a historic part of Sydney.
After sailing, we all met for lunch at Bungalow 8 on the harbor. Oprah even ate with some of us. After lunch she gave a 15-minute speech. She talked about how when she was growing up that she could never find those cute little nameplates with Oprah on it. And how she knew that she would never be a ‘normal’ child because she didn’t have a ‘normal’ name. Then she said that today, while sailing, seeing her name on a whole regatta made up for not having a little keychain or license plate with her name on it when she was a child. And then she talked about how we can have a whole regatta with our names on it too, in our own ways. And that we are all unique and special and have so many gifts to offer the world, and that we need to realize that and know that we deserve it. There was not a dry eye in the house.
That night we got on a bus having no idea where we were going. On the bus there was a video, and Oprah was on it, and told us that we were going to the U2 concert at Olympic Stadium. Jay-Z opened for them. Oprah even came and sat with us for the show – she was in the row right in front of me.
Our last full day in Australia.The Oprah Show is taping two shows at the Sydney “Oprah” House. The 302 of us had VIP seats right in front of the stage.We were joined by 6000 Australians who won tickets via a lottery system to attend one of the two tapings.
There were two tapings that day. Guests included Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban, Bono from U2, Bon Jovi, Olivia Newton-John and others. We had the front 300 center seats and once again, were treated so well. We were the first ones in, and the first to leave. The shows were so much fun to attend and at the first taping all 6000 audience members were given an Australian pearl necklace with an “O” engraved with “Oprah: The Farewell Season”, and at the second taping were given an authentic Australian pink argyle diamond necklace, the rarest diamonds in the world.
Aerial shot of the Platypus family standing up and screaming for ONJ when she came on stage.
With Liz and her mom Nabonye – new lifelong friends!
A video from the finale of the second show. There was a huge Australian flag that went over the audience. It was so much fun!http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Australian-Celebrities-Perform-I-Still-Call-Australia-Home-Video
After the shows, we gathered in the Opera House for a cocktail party and to say goodbye to all of our new friends. It was bittersweet.
Liz, Tamika and I in the Sydney Opera House in front of the O on the bridge.,
I have to say that this was the mostexhilarating experience of my life. I met new friends from all walks of life. I met my mentor and the person I respect so greatly who has done so much to change the world. I was given a new perspective on life and my eyes were opened in so many ways. I found love, I found peace, I found confidence, I found life. Oprah’s influence has made me strive to be the very best person I can possibly be. And although I left a piece of my heart in Australia, peace of my heart came back with me to the states.
Oh, and one last thing…a picture from my new vision board. This time I’m on the couch with Oprah!