BILLIONAIRE talk-show host Oprah Winfrey has said she was a victim of racism during a trip to an upmarket shop in Switzerland, when an assistant said a luxury handbag was “too expensive” for her.
The interviewer, who is one of the world’s richest women, told US programme Entertainment Tonight that the employee in Zurich refused to show her the handbag because she could not afford it.
The 59-year-old, who last month topped Forbes’ list of the 100 most powerful celebrities. was told, “No. It’s too expensive”, when Winfrey asked her to take the £22,500 bag out of a glass security case at Trois Pommes store.
The TV presenter told how she left without contesting the shop assistant’s behaviour, but recounted her experience for the TV show during a debate about the continued existence of racism.
The shop and Switzerland’s tourist board have since apologised to the star, but not before she told Entertainment Tonight: “I was in Zurich the other day, in a store whose name I will not mention. I didn’t have my eyelashes on but I was in full Oprah Winfrey gear. I had my little Donna Karan skirt and my little sandals. But obviously The Oprah Winfrey Show is not shown in Zurich.
“I go into a store and I say to the woman, ‘Excuse me, may I see the bag right above your head?’ and she says to me, ‘No. It’s too expensive’.”
When Winfrey insisted she did want to see the bag, the shop assistant allegedly replied: “No, no, you don’t want to see that one, you want to see this one because that one will cost too much. You will not be able to afford that.”
Winfrey, who earned £50 million in the year ending in June, continued: “There’s two different ways to handle it. I could’ve had the whole blow-up thing … but [racism] still exists, of course it does.”
A spokeswoman for the Swiss tourism office said yesterday: “We are very sorry for what happened to her. We are totally ashamed about what happened – this sales assistant was completely in the wrong.
“This was a one-off and will not have a long-lasting effect on the popularity of Switzerland, but the saleswoman should apologise to Oprah.”
Winfrey was in the town last month to attend the wedding of long-time friend Tina Turner, who lives in a chateau on Lake Zurich.
Shop owner Trudie Gotz has also apologised to the star. “There was a misunderstanding between [the sales assistant] and Oprah,” said Ms Gotz, who was also a guest at the celebrity wedding. “We don’t have any facial recognition here,” she told local media.
Ms Gotz said Winfrey was “absolutely allowed” to look at the bag. She said: “My salesperson wanted to give her the handbag in her hand. But she didn’t want to take the bag.”
She added that the assistant had worked in the Trois Pommes store “for a few years and takes care of the most spoilt customers from all over the world. She is really a correct sales person”.
Ms Gotz explained that her assistant spoke both Italian and English, “but her English isn’t as good”.
Winfrey’s claims come amid a political row over plans by some Swiss towns to ban asylum-seekers from some public places, such as swimming pools and libraries.