n In 1986 she opened her own theme park, Dollywood, in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, at the base of the Great Smoky Mountains. It’s the state’s number one tourist attraction.
“Don’t anyone walk off with this, now; ‘cos this one’s mine,” teases a familiar little voice, as a hand the size and delicacy of a child’s plonks a handbag on the nearest chair.
The bag is almost as big as its owner. And the voice is as sweet and as warm as a summer breeze over Locust Ridge, Tennessee.
As I live and breathe, Dolly Parton, Queen of Country, is in the bedroom. She’s slipped in, all smiles and just five minutes late, without fanfare or ceremony. And after handshakes all round, the little lady is good to go.
There are six of us journalists gathered around a table in a posh suite at London’s Savoy. We have just 20 minutes with her; pens and tape recorders are poised and the heat is on. But such is Dolly’s playful tone and self-effacing manner, within minutes it feels like you’re quizzing your favourite auntie for gossip, rather than a global superstar.
There is something quite amazing about this woman; she is the world’s most successful female country singer and surely worth millions. Yet there is not a whiff of aloofness. She has turned herself into a walking, talking parody of every man’s sexual fantasy, yet women adore and admire her rather than scorn her.
And while many an ageing star still striving to twinkle with the aid of hefty plastic surgery is derided for their vanity, Dolly’s we happily accept.
Even if you don’t like country music, you do love Dolly. You can’t help but stare, though. And not at the famously inflated boobs. For the whole time, my eyes laser-scanned her face.
It is truly amazing. She readily admits she’s 65 years old, yet at most she looks 35. Her skin is as clear and plump as a peach. Even her decollete is wrinkle and age spot-free.
Dolly’s surgeon must be a master craftsman; it looks like her chin and cheekbones have somehow been surgically enhanced to give her skin a better scaffolding.
Unlike many celebrities, she is upfront about the work she’s had done. and that, she reckons, is what has earned her many a female fan.
“I think especially older women like me because I’m honest. They know I say yeah, I’ve had a few nips and tucks and when I need some more, I’ll get them, too. I also tell any woman considering it to find a good surgeon and not to have everything done at once and make themselves look weird. I do stuff a little at a time, so you wouldn’t know it... I hope!”
Dolly is in the UK on a whistle-stop publicity schedule. She is meant to be talking about her global Better Day tour, which arrives in the UK on August 20 and is at Sheffield Motorpoint Arena on September 12. And the new album of the same name, out on July 1. But nothing seems to be off-limits for this down-to-earth woman. It’s three years since she was here on the Backwoods Barbie tour.
She explains: “The fans asked me to come back, so here I am. I appreciate them; some come to every single show nad I know the tickets are not cheap; I said to them, where do you get the money from? Do you rob banks?”
She is renowned for her willingness to sign autographs and pose for pictures with fans. “That side of fame, it’s never been a burden. I love my life. I don’t bitch about it,” she says, shrugging teeny shoulders inside her closely tailored black and red print jacket.
“There are people who do and they don’t deserve what they have, including the fans that they’re running away from.”
The author of over 4,000 songs, 41 top ten country albums, a host of Number 1 hits and countless awards, not to mention enough gold and platinum albums “to make the folks at Tiffany’s blush” Dolly says she will never hang up her rhinestone boots.
“At 65 I don’t feel any different than I did when I first went to Nashville,” she says. “Every day I wake up with new dreams and new thoughts. My anniversary made me appreciate that I’ve lived this long. I could retire If I want to, but I’m never going to. This is who I am. I’ll be performing ‘til I keel over.”
She still writes constantly, adding: “I keep a little tape recorder and a notepad by my bathtub and bedside because I’m afraid I’ll forgit ideas if I don’t write them down right away”.
The songs on the new album are “very positive, uplifting,” she adds. “What with all the craziness going on in the world, and the economy, I thought it would be a good time...”
Positive and uplifting could be her middle names: “I’m an emotional person; I’m one of those people that if I’m going to love, I’m going to love you all the way, and if my heart’s broken it’s just shattered all to pieces,” she admits. “But I was born with a happy heart. I look every day for things to be good. And If they’re not I set about trying to make ‘em the best I can.”
Now, if that isn’t already a DP song lyric, it should be.