Nate Berkus has plenty of reason to pop the cork in 2010. This past May, after executing 127 home makeovers, he left The Oprah Winfrey Show to launch his own nationally syndicated TV project. But wasn't it only a matter of time before the Empress of Media's go-to home and design guy had his turn in the spotlight?
'I understand the power of television and I have for a really long time,' says Berkus, who began collaborating with Winfrey in 2001, six years after he launched his own Chicago-based design firm, Nate Berkus Associates, at the age of 24. He's not at all daunted by the fact that he's joined the already well-stocked talk-show genre, which also includes Oprah prot'g's Rachael Ray, Dr. Phil, and Dr. Oz -- or that when The Nate Berkus Show premiered in September he became the first openly gay man to host a nationally syndicated daily television program. 'My sexuality is something I never really hid,' he says. 'It wasn't a situation of wondering if people were going to start digging into my personal life because we've already done that.'
He is referring, of course, to his memorable appearance on Oprah in January 2005, when he opened up about the death of his partner, photographer Fernando Bengoechea, who had perished just three weeks earlier in the Indian Ocean tsunami while the couple was vacationing in Sri Lanka. The episode marked the first time Berkus had spoken publicly about his sexuality -- and the first time many viewers had been exposed to a deeply moving, real-life gay love story.
His recent appearance on an episode of Larry King Live, in which he delivered a compelling plea to America to stop gay bullying, confirms that in addition to all his design tips, kitchen overhauls, and celebrity interviews, Berkus will continue to cast light on more pressing issues. 'Having a daily show is an opportunity for me not to push a political agenda, but to speak out for tolerance and understanding and equality,' he says. 'I've been given an enormous opportunity, and I plan to use it responsibly.'