Queen Latifah Faces Her Fears

As she launches a new talk show, the star talks candidly about reconciling with her father, caring for her ailing mother and confronting things that “scare the hell out of me"

by Gerri Hirshey
queen latifah more image
Carmen Marc Valvo Black Label jeweled gown; Saks Fifth Avenue. Le Vian Chocolate Diamond studs set in 14k white gold; levian.com. Pages 91 and 97: Marina Rinaldi turtleneck; 212-734-4333. Le Vian Chocolate Diamond hoops set in 14k Strawberry Gold; levian.com. Bracelets are Latifah’s own.
Photograph: Peggy Sirota

The one man Rita Owens trusts implicitly with her daughter’s well-being is Compere, a former student of hers who became Latifah’s good friend. “Her mom believed in Latifah and me as a team,” he says. “She always told us we have to protect each other against all the adversity that’s going to come our way.”

Compere moved his wife and children west to take care of business for Flavor Unit.

Rule five: There’s no place like home.

My mom always made a peaceful home,”Latifah says. For 11 tough months when she was eight, the family endured public housing—the tumultuous Hyatt Court in Newark’s East Ward—then moved to an apartment over a barbershop in East Orange. “Even though we didn’t have a lot of money, it was clean. It smelled good. There was a piece of fabric thrown across a couch, a cool little artwork, something that made it feel loving and safe.”

Latifah furnished her L.A. house years ago, but it could have a hollow echo when she was alone. It’s so much better with a bit of joyous noise from back home. “I’m excited that my mom is with me, and Shakim and his family are nearby,” she says. “It feels like the old flavor.”

Our conversation has lasted more than two hours, and now 20 people are waiting for Latifah in a conference room. There is no question who’s boss when she takes her place at the head of the table. A young woman named Sierra Lindsey hands Latifah a thick packet and begins a breathless exegesis: “Well, this worked well when I did it for President and Mrs. Obama...”

Suddenly, there are theatrical shrieks all around the table, followed by a standing ovation. Latifah is up and clapping hard. Lindsey formerly served as video producer for President Obama’s 2012 campaign, and now a racket ensues every time she mentions her former employers. The affectionate takedown is part of Keeping It Real on team QL.

Now Latifah scans an introduction about a youth choir in Chicago.

“I wouldn’t say this,” she says.

No problem! Rewrite!

“Can you give me some hard facts? Do we have grounds to say this? Chicago is struggling—let’s not make it worse.”

There are a lot of women in the room, across a wide age span. La’s management style is R-E-S-P-E-C-T. After nearly an hour, she looks tired but pleased as she pushes out her chair. “Good meeting,” she says. “We cool for the day?” she asks her team. Then she checks the time and smiles.

“I’ve got to get home and get some dinner for my mom.”

GERRI HIRSHEY profiled Christina Applegate in the November 2012 issue of More.

Next: Woman of Interest: Cher

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