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Gayle Takes Manhattan

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For Gayle King, there’s only one bad thing about being Oprah Winfrey‘s best friend-clearing up all the public misconceptions about her. “People think that I don’t work,” says King, “and I fly around in Oprah’s private plane doing whatever I want.” Then there’s that other pesky rumor: “It’s hard enough to get a date on a Saturday night without people thinking I’m gay!” laughs King, 55, alluding to the long-recurring tabloid tale that she and Winfrey are much more than friends. “It used to really bother me. I would call Oprah, so upset, and say, ‘We have to do something about this!’ I worried what my kids would think.” But now “I realize how ridiculous it is. Look, people, if I were [gay], I would tell you!”

King isn’t wasting time worrying about appearances-she’s got way too much going on. As editor-at-large of Winfrey’s O magazine, now celebrating its 10th anniversary, and host of a daily radio show on Sirius XM, “my life is very full,” she says. With her children Kirby, 24, and Will, 23, now out of the house, she’s also finding time for herself. She recently moved from the family’s Greenwich, Conn., home into a luxurious Manhattan penthouse, just for her. And she’s looking for love: “I’m thinking when I meet the right person-and I do believe that I will-he’s going to be younger,” King says mischievously. “Not cougar territory, though. I won’t go out with someone who could be my son!”

When she’s not on the prowl, King is in intense planning mode, working out the details of her new talk show, The Gayle King Show, which will air on Winfrey’s cable channel, the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), which launches in January. “I’m so excited,” says King, who spent years as an anchor in Kansas City and Hartford, Conn. She and Winfrey, 56, met in 1977 when they both worked at a station in Baltimore. Now Winfrey’s most trusted confidante, King has become the ambassador of her megabrand and a natural choice to host a show on her new network. “Nobody,” says Winfrey, “knows me better than [Gayle].”

Which is why Winfrey tried for years to persuade King to follow in her footsteps. “When she was first thinking of retiring, Oprah offered me the chance to come to Chicago to get integrated into the show, so she could eventually pass the baton,” says King. Worried about uprooting her children, she passed on the opportunity (though she hosted a syndicated talk show in 1998-99, which taped in Hartford). “As much as I wanted to do it, I just couldn’t move my kids away from their father [William Bumpus, an assistant attorney general in Connecticut, whom she divorced in 1993]. It’s always been very important to me that they have a relationship with him.” Now that they’re all grown up (Kirby got her master’s in public health at Columbia on May 17; Will’s an investment banker), King is finally ready to take Winfrey up on her offer.

And no matter what people think about her relationship with Winfrey, King wouldn’t change a thing. “I have a great appreciation for the things I’ve gotten to do and the people I’ve met,” says King, who counts Maya Angelou and Michelle Obama among her friends. Explains Winfrey: “Her favorite color is yellow, and that’s so appropriate for her because she sees the sunshine in everybody and brings it wherever she goes.” That’s one charge King won’t deny: “I’m basically a really happy person. My life is nuts, but it feels complete.”