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Good Housekeeping: Meredith Uncensored

As Meredith Vieira gets ready to join “Today” on September 13, she talked to Good Housekeeping magazine about her private life — from the crisis that made her marriage stronger to why her kids think she’s a mess. Read an excerpt:

Though it’s a mild, sunny day, it would be entirely understandable if Meredith Vieira arrived for lunch in a snit. She’d planned to have a driver take her to the restaurant where we’re meeting, inside New York City’s Central Park, but barricades blocked the roads. So the soon-to-be coanchor of the Today show, succeeding Katie Couric as the woman who wakes up America, has been forced to hike a quarter mile along the park’s looping, confusing paths — in black stiletto heels. But as she strolls into the restaurant, dressed in cream-colored slacks and a snug knit top, she is unshaken. “I walked here,” she says in that familiar throaty voice, her smile warm, her green eyes direct. She sounds calm, even amused by her little misadventure.Vieira lacks even the accessories of celebrity — no sunglasses, no BlackBerry. She does not even carry a purse. She holds only a cell phone, which she politely keeps turned off for the next two hours while she talks about the work she loves and the rich, challenging family life she loves even more. Vieira has had nine years of exposure on The View, the wildly successful ABC morning chat show she moderated until last May. She’s also spent four years hosting the syndicated version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. And, as any fan of The View knows, she has three children and a husband of 20 years, television producer and writer Richard Cohen, whose health problems have been openly discussed by Vieira in the past.

Vieira will turn 53 in December, and she has the laugh lines and creases to prove it (she has said she’d like to avoid plastic surgery for now). Today she is wearing thick television pancake makeup, but only because she hasn’t had a chance to scrub it off yet. Sometimes she forgets and finds herself at her suburban supermarket, looking, she jokes, “like a washed-up prostitute.” This is pure Vieira and a large part of her huge appeal: She’s a mix of stunning and soulful, a beauty with a big mouth and a warm heart.Settling in at the table, Vieira instantly reveals herself as a woman who is not in the habit of lunching out. “What’s in a Cobb salad?” she asks of the entrée that appears, it seems, on the lunch menu of every New York City restaurant. Told its ingredients—chicken, blue cheese, and bacon, among others — she orders one. (Later, a fellow patron will use the salad as an excuse to approach Vieira, asking her about its contents. Vieira patiently describes the salad in detail and clearly makes the diner’s day.)

Off camera, Vieira is busy raising three teenagers — Ben, 17, Gabe, 15, and Lily, 13. They are one big reason she has enjoyed her tenure on The View — there has been virtually no travel, and the hours have allowed her to get home in time to drive them to various after-school commitments. Without their blessing, she would never have considered taking the Today show job, as plum an assignment as it is. The prospect of being beloved by early-morning millions is certainly not a bad feeling—nor is the reported $40 million she’ll earn over four years. But, she insists, “my decisions have always been connected to my family, because if it doesn’t work with the family, it’s not going to work. Maybe you’ve gotten more pay at another job … but if you’re miserable at home every night, it’s not worth it.” 

So when it came time to decide whether to leave  The View for the Today show, “I didn’t do it lightly,” she says. “I didn’t do it lightly at all.” She mulled over the offer for six months —though she knows some may find that baffling. “A lot of people said to me, ‘Why would you think twice?’ The salary, the reputation…I’m not saying those things don’t matter — certainly, I’m a breadwinner in my family,” she says. “But that’s never been why I do something.”

Yet Vieira admits she was flattered by the idea of following Couric — “I thought, Do they know how old I am?”—and impressed with Matt Lauer, her future cohost. Invited to dinner at his apartment last December so the two of them could take each other’s measure, she debated about what to wear before opting for comfort: jeans, a white T-shirt, and a black jacket. On the subject of clothes, she jokes, “I don’t own any.” Vieira never goes shopping and has, she says, absolutely no interest in keeping up appearances. “I’m kind of a tomboy,” she says, “and I was never a girly girl in my life.” To Vieira’s relief, Lauer answered the door in jeans and a sweater and immediately offered her a glass of wine. Vieira recalls, “I thought, I love him already.”   

To read the complete article "Merdith Vieira: Uncensored," check out the September issue of Good Housekeeping, available now on newsstands.

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