Oprah  Winfrey, Stedman Graham. Photo: Getty
Oprah Winfrey, Stedman Graham. Photo: Getty

Oprah Winfrey has long been praised for her ability to get people to share their personal stories on national television, and now she's turning the camera back on herself.

In a new interview with WHO's sister pubication, People Magazine, the media mogul reveals she forced herself to take a step back from her heavy workload last summer after realising she was on the brink of a nervous breakdown as she struggled to turn her TV network into a success.

Opening up to about the painful moment of realisation for the first time, Oprah recalls when she flew from her New Orleans movie set (where she was filming Lee Daniels' The Butler) to interview Kony 2012 founder, Jason Russell.

"Jason was talking about having a nervous breakdown, and I was thinking, 'I have those symptoms,'" she reveals.

Winfrey's breaking point came just days later as she headed into the OWN headquarters in Los Angeles to record voice-overs for her shows: "I remember closing my eyes while I was reading. I thought, 'I cannot have another thing enter my brain.' I needed to pull back."

She confesses the harsh press criticism of her network hit her hard, and she credits her longterm partner, Stedman Graham, with helping her soldier on to overcome the disappointing start.

She says, "After 25 years of being number one, I had become accustomed to success. I didn't expect failure. I was tested and I had to dig deep. The schadenfreude (pleasure from misfortune of others) was very painful for me, because I had never experienced it."

"He was amazing," Oprah reveals about her fiance of 21 years. "He said, 'You can't even think about quitting.'" And while he encouraged her, he didn't sugarcoat the challenges she faced. Oprah remembers Stedman's advice verbatim: "You have been in cruise control," he told his longtime partner. "It's gonna turn around, but you've gotta do the work."

Going on to describe their first date 30 years ago, Oprah reveals she was struck by his perseverance. "We went waterskiing," she explains. "Stedman tried 28 times [to get up] and wouldn't give up. I thought, 'What is wrong with him? Good lord, this is exhausting!' He would not quit."

Taking his perseverance on as her own as she headed back to work, Graham is never far from Winfrey's mind: "I have an iPad filled with things he says. He is the most positive person ever."

"We're like an old married couple," she muses.

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