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Former hostage is transformed into TV star

Television was once her only window on the world. Now Natascha Kampusch — who spent 8 1/2 years in an underground cell — is starting an improbable new career as a TV talk show host.
Image: Natascha Kampusch
Natascha Kampusch, left, chats with Austrian former Formula One champion Niki Lauda on her new television talk show.Matthias Silveri / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Television was once her only window on the world. Now Natascha Kampusch — still adjusting to life after spending 8 1/2 years in an underground cell — is starting an improbable new career as a TV talk show host.

Less than two years after staging a dramatic escape while her captor was distracted with a phone call, the young Austrian woman whose ordeal stunned people worldwide is going prime time.

"Natascha Kampusch Meets ...," a chat show featuring local celebrities, debuts Sunday evening on Puls4, a new private cable channel.

A Puls4 trailer shows Kampusch typing on a laptop computer, pouring herself a glass of mineral water and grinning as makeup artists give her a final touchup on the set. She wears her long blond hair down and sports a sweater and a floral-patterned skirt — both in purple, her favorite color.

But Kampusch, 20, is the first to acknowledge she's an unlikely talk show host.

"So much has been written about me, and so many people want to know what it's like to be on the other side" of the interviewer's table, she told Austrian media this week.

"It's not easy for me to get all my ducks in a row. But I'll gladly take on this challenge. As long as you keep overcoming, you keep developing."

Kampusch was a freckle-faced 10-year-old when she vanished while walking to school in Vienna in March 1998. Her abduction was Austria's greatest unsolved criminal mystery until Aug. 23, 2006, when — pale, feeble and nearly blinded by the light of day — she stumbled to freedom.

Within hours of her escape, kidnapper Wolfgang Priklopil — who had confined her to a cramped, dingy, windowless cell beneath his suburban home — took his own life by leaping in front of a rush-hour commuter train.

Kampusch, who was 18 when she escaped, drew fresh attention last month after a similar but even more horrific case surfaced in Austria.

Police allege that Josef Fritzl, 73, confessed to holding his daughter captive for 24 years in a windowless prison beneath his home in Amstetten, west of Vienna, and fathering seven children with her — including one whose body he tossed into a furnace after it died in infancy.

Kampusch has offered financial assistance to Fritzl's alleged victims and said she wants to meet with his 42-year-old daughter, who was 18 when she was confined to the cellar.

Those who have closely followed Kampusch's metamorphosis won't be surprised at her new career: Since she resurfaced, she repeatedly said she was considering a job in journalism, even though she has no formal training and is still completing her high school education. She has also expressed interest in photography, acting and art.

Kampusch was remarkably poised and articulate when — just two weeks after escaping — she gave her first nationally broadcast interview, repeatedly shutting her still-sensitive eyes against the glare of the spotlights.

During her captivity, Kampusch was allowed to watch TV and videos, listen to the radio and read books in her cell, which included a bed, toilet and sink.

Executives at Puls4 said they plan to air her 50-minute talk show once a month. The show will be prerecorded rather than broadcast live.

Puls4 declined to say how much it's paying Kampusch, and she did not immediately respond to a request for an interview with The Associated Press.

'Really excited'
Kampusch told the Austria Press Agency she's "already really excited" about what kind of reaction the show will get.

As a host, she said she intends to engage her guests "very openly in front of the camera — and also reveal quite a lot about myself."

"I really want to know how my guests view their lives, their jobs, their friends. Are they content? What are their dreams?" she said.

But Kampusch said she's also bracing for criticism about her unusually bold move into the public eye, saying she's "certain" to wind up with detractors.

Paparazzi photographers
Since she got her life back, Kampusch has tangled with autograph hounds and paparazzi photographers who have tracked her to cafes and discotheques. Some are likely to see her new public persona as at odds with her insistence that people respect her right to privacy, or dismiss the concept of her show as tasteless and voyeuristic.

"How much elbow room does one have? Where are the borders? How will viewers and the public react in the long run?" she said.

So far, she's gotten mostly accolades from those who admire her courage.

They include her first guest: Niki Lauda, an Austrian former Formula One race car driver who now runs Lauda Air, a small airline.

Lauda told the Kurier newspaper he had misgivings about going on Kampusch's show because of her inexperience, and insisted on meeting with her first.

"But she was very professional," he said. "And she asked me questions that no one's ever asked me before."