Whoopi Goldberg: 'I shouldn't have got married - I was never really in love'

Whoopi Goldberg
Whoopi Goldberg

She’s an enduring icon of the American entertainment scene and winner of an Oscar for her role as an eccentric psychic in the 1990 film Ghost.

Now, Whoopi Goldberg is bringing her stand-up show to Britain for the first time ever and for two performances only. On Saturday February 11, she will thrill audiences at the London Palladium - and nor is the choice of venue arbitrary.

“While I was appearing at the Palladium in the musical, Sister Act, in 2010,” she explains, “I lost my mum.” Because of that, Goldberg has deliberately chosen the same theatre for this unique show, both to lay the memory of that loss to rest “and to re-establish my relationship with England. Mum loved the UK, as do I.”

She’s looking forward to it but is also keen to set the record straight. This will not be stand-up as we know it - a succession of one-liners. “I’m a storyteller,” says Whoopi, 61.

Nor will it only be directed at women. “I have plenty to say to and about guys. Listen, no one ever tells them that their nuts are going to hit the floor when they reach a certain age. But at least they can turn to Viagra, which will perk them up for a while. What they don’t get told, though, is that, once they’ve taken a pill, they could find themselves ready for action, so to speak, for 92 hours.”

I honestly don’t feel 'iconic’ or like I broke any glass ceilings. My guiding principle has been always to do and say what I’m interested in

Expect, then, plenty of ribald humour mixed with the polemical and political. Take Botox. “You might call it that,” says Whoopi. “I call it botulism. When I was a kid, botulism was bad. The idea you’d have its equivalent injected into your body would have been unthinkable. But now everyone’s doing it.”

So does she think it will come back to bite us on our bums one day? “How will we be able to tell?” she asks. “Our asses will be frozen.”

Like so many, says Goldberg, she didn’t predict the two major political upheavals this year - Brexit and the rise of President-elect Donald Trump. “On both sides of the pond, people were caught with their pants down.” 

She will take to her grave the recollection of Barack Obama becoming President of the United States. “I so clearly remember my mother saying that she never thought she’d live to see a black man in the White House.” Which must have made Hillary Clinton’s defeat at the hands of Trump a bitter pill to swallow. 

“It was but I’m giving him a chance. What else can I do?” Throw herself off the Empire State Building? “No, because that would mean I wouldn’t be around to pay attention and to scream and rail when things go wrong. It’s like everything. If you take yourself out of the equation, you can’t complain.”

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Whoopi has the luxury – she says so herself – of appearing regularly on US chat show The View, the precursor to the altogether fluffier UK version, Loose Women. “So I’m dealing with this stuff every day. It’s a forum. I’ve talked many times about Trump’s attitude to women and to black people - two subjects on which I feel entitled to speak.”

And, when Whoopi talks, people listen. To many, she’s an icon; a pioneer. “I never think like that,” she says. “I look in the mirror and I still see me. I honestly don’t feel 'iconic’ or like I broke any glass ceilings. My guiding principle has been always to do and say what I’m interested in.”

She’s been doing just that for over three decades now. In 1983, Goldberg – real name, Caryn Johnson – created the one-woman Spook Show, composed of different character monologues. Director Mike Nichols offered to take it to Broadway where her performance caught the eye of a certain filmmaker named Steven Spielberg. About to direct The Color Purple, he offered Goldberg a leading role.

It was quite a step-change. In her early twenties, she’d been young, homeless and addicted to heroin. “I’d dropped out of high school and got into drugs. This was the Seventies. It was a rite of passage.” With the help of a counsellor, Alvin Martin, who she went on to briefly marry, she beat her addiction and set her heart on becoming an actor.

To her horror, one of the mortuary drawers slowly started to creak open and a man sat up and waved at her

But, first, she worked as a bricklayer and then as a beautician – with a difference. “I did dead people’s make-up,” she tells me. She won’t easily forget her first day. Called to her boss’s office, she sat alone in the room surrounded by giant filing cabinets that contained the recently departed.

To her horror, one of the drawers slowly started to creak open and a man sat up and waved at her. It turned out to be the boss - a joker who said nothing that bad would ever happen to her again and she shouldn’t feel spooked by her new job. “And he was right. I was fine after that.”

Happily, her life was soon to take a different path. Solo performer, actor, campaigner, chat show host, Whoopi’s has been a seamless career, one success following another. But the same has not been true of her private life. That early marriage to Martin produced her only child, Alexandria, now in her forties and a mother of three children, one of whom had a small daughter of her own in 2014 - making Goldberg a great-grandmother aged just 58.

She married and divorced twice more: to cinematographer David Claessen in 1986 and to union organiser Lyle Trachtenberg in 1994. There have been romances along the way with actors Frank Langella and Timothy Dalton. But the great love of her life, or so it is said, was Ted Danson, best known as Sam Malone in sitcom Cheers, and about whom the otherwise voluble Ms Goldberg will say not one word.

Goldberg in 'Sister Act - the Musical'  Credit: Paul Grover

As it is, she’s been single for many years and nor is she complaining. “I recently wrote a booked entitled, 'If Someone Says: “You Complete Me”, RUN!'. It’s about what I feel is wrong with relationships. My experience over the years is that a relationship requires that you commit to caring what somebody else thinks.

“But the truth slowly dawned on me that I don’t want to work that hard. I have many relationships – with my daughter, my grandkids and now my great-granddaughter – and they come first. It took me some time but I realised that trying to turn myself into something I wasn’t for a man wasn’t his fault. It was mine. My marriages failed and I was the common denominator.

“My commitment was never that strong. I can say now that I was never really in love. I shouldn’t ever have got married. That realisation freed me up. I love men and men love me. I’m lucky that way. I just feel bad that it took me this long to realise that I wasn’t meant to be in a relationship.”

And Goldberg  - a multi-millionairess, still hugely stimulated by her work - couldn’t be happier. 

So, when she does want a treat, what does she choose to spend her money on? “I’m not big on indulgences,” she says. And then stops herself. “I do like audio books, though. I’ll wake up in the night and listen to one of them. But then I always liked stories.”

Especially, it would seem, ones where the leading lady makes her own happily ever after.

Whoopi Goldberg will be doing two performances at the London Palladium on Saturday February 11. For tickets, visit rutlive.co.uk or call 0845 505 8500.