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From captivity to TV talk show

For years, television was Natascha Kampusch's only lifeline in Austria. Now it is her livelihood.

VIENNA, Austria - Television was once her only window on the world. Now Natascha Kampusch - still adjusting to life after spending 81/2 years captive in an underground cell - is starting an improbable 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, makes its debut tomorrow on Puls4, a new cable channel.

A Puls4 trailer shows Kampusch typing on a laptop, 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.

Kampusch, 20, is the first to acknowledge she is 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.

"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, Wolfgang Priklopil - who had confined her to a cramped, dingy, windowless cell beneath his suburban home - committed suicide by leaping in front of a commuter train.

Kampusch, who was 18 when she escaped, drew fresh attention last month after an even more horrific case of captivity 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 the child 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.

In 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.

She told the Austria Press Agency she intends to engage her guests "very openly in front of the camera - and also reveal quite a lot about myself."

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

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

Lauda said he had 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."