There are best friends... And then there's Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King. For the past 30-plus years, King has encouraged, coaxed and kidded around with Winfrey, on screen and off. (Who else can get away with poking fun at the talk superstar for, say, forgetting how to pump her own gas?) She appears regularly on Oprah, serves as editor-at-large for O, The Oprah Magazine and has now morphed her satellite radio program, "The Gayle King Show," into a series on the newly hatched OWN network. We ordered up a round of straight talk with her at NYC's Mandarin Oriental Hotel, where King made it clear why she's the kind of gal you want in your corner.
TV Guide Magazine: You've spent most of your life on the air in one way or another, including 18 years as a news anchor in Hartford, Connecticut.
King: I was there dinosaur long — I fell into institution territory! I was just about to sign another contract when I was offered the position at O. I thought, "It would actually be cool to learn something new." In the middle of doing that, the radio gig surfaced, then along came this radio-TV hybrid. So I feel like I've come full circle.
TV Guide Magazine: The Gayle King Show is really about whatever strikes your interest, right?
King: The beauty is that it's topical, daily and I get to cover all the things I love: pop culture, politics, music, food, awards shows. It's almost like they said, "Gayle, what kind of show would you like?" And I get to play with people! One day James Earl Jones is the guest, another day it's Josh Groban or Jay-Z. Justin Bieber came in even when he was sick, and now I have a special place in my heart for him.
TV Guide Magazine: Who are your dream guests?
King: I'm really smitten with Taylor Swift and Katy Perry... Have you heard their albums? And it goes without saying, Prince William and Kate [Middleton] — before or after the wedding, whenev-ah. I was in the airport the other day and there was a British person. I said, "Excuse me, by any chance are you going to the wedding? Do you need a plus one?"
TV Guide Magazine: Is there anyone who intimidates you?
King: When you cut through all the layers, people are people — with the same concerns, desires, dreams, hopes. I pride myself on making others feel comfortable. I believe any question can be asked, but I'm not trying for a "gotcha" moment.
TV Guide Magazine: You and Oprah have been tight since the '70s, when you were coworkers at a Baltimore news station. This year, she famously described you as a sister, a mother, a best friend... How did that feel?
King: I was boo-hooing like a baby! I called her and said, "Oh, my God, where did that come from?" I said, "I want to meet Gayle King! She sounds great!"
TV Guide Magazine: And how would you describe the relationship?
King: She's my closest, closest friend. I talk to her every single day, about everything and nothing. She's very wise. When I was going through my divorce [in 1993, from William Bumpus], I went through five marital counselors and there was nobody who was better at the advice than Oprah. I trust her implicitly, and Oprah knows I would never betray her. She's been betrayed so many times.
TV Guide Magazine: Does it ever get weird working for a friend? What happens, for example, when you need a raise?
King: Well, I have a lawyer — because it's so unpleasant to talk about money. So I don't have to go, "Oprah, give me a raise." I don't have to do that.
TV Guide Magazine: How frustrating is it that, year after year, you have to keep denying the rumors that you're secretly a couple?
King: In the beginning, it used to bother me. Like, "Oh, my God, I don't want people to think I'm gay — I'm trying to get a date!" But now I don't care. I've given up trying to figure that out. At this stage, if you still think that, it's on you.
TV Guide Magazine: What's your take on Oprah ending?
King: I'm having a harder time than she is. She's literally doing the hula. I think there's gonna be a deep hole in afternoon TV — I'm not even sure people realize.
TV Guide Magazine: We were approached tonight by someone who passed you a business card — something about wanting you to try her pies. Does that happen a lot?
King: Welcome to my world. Just about everyone I meet has an agenda — a book, a movie. It's not a hard way to live — it just is what it is. When you spend enough time with people, you can tell what their true intentions are, so I don't feel burdened by it at all. It's a high-cotton problem.
TV Guide Magazine: Your daughter, Kirby, 24, went to Stanford. Your son, Will, 23, went to Duke. You must be doing something right as a parent.
King: Knock on wood! I have great kids. You can take them to the White House or the movies. I'm always very excited for people to meet my son, my daughter and Oprah — because all three of them never disappoint.
TV Guide Magazine: What TV shows do you like to watch in your downtime?
King: Big Love, The Office, 30 Rock, Mike & Molly. Reality TV is tricky, because people are encouraged to be their worst possible selves.
TV Guide Magazine: You're 5-foot-10. Is it true that shorties need not apply to date you?
King: It would be hard for me to be serious about someone who's shorter. It sounds very shallow, I know, but that's my hang-up. I just like someone who's taller than me. In heels.
TV Guide Magazine: Are you open to getting married again?
King: I was open to it... Though now I'm thinking a live-in companion would be good. But like Justin Bieber says, "Never say never." Look, now I'm quoting Justin Bieber on marriage!
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