It’s been 40 years since I first interviewed Dolly Parton and thanks to the miracles of chemistry, she’s hardly changed at all.
And the 72-year-old singer would be the first to joke about it.
“I always wanted to be pretty, and I always wanted to be a star, whatever that meant. I wanted to shine; so I created my own look to build my confidence, because very few people are born beautiful, with natural beauty, and I certainly am not one.
“I am too short, I never had great hair. I used to bleach my hair so much, it would tear to pieces, so I thought, well I will just start wearing wigs.
“And I thought, if I am too short, I will wear high heels and if my hands are too small, I’ll wear long nails.
“I try to make positives out of negatives. I did whatever I needed to build my confidence, and when people don’t believe I had plastic surgery, I say “Yeah, I don’t look old but I have aged my plastic surgeons.
“But I do it because it makes me feel better about myself. I always say I am a workhorse that looks like a show horse. So yeah, I work every day to build my confidence,” the affable singer says.
She made her debut in 1967 and has since released more than 40 country albums and won nine Grammy Awards. She has also dabbled in films, has a stake in the popular theme park Dollywood in Tennessee and writes hit songs for other singers. In an interview to promote the Netflix movie Dumplin’ (which she contributes to the soundtrack), Parton speaks candidly about her life in showbiz.
When people made fun of your ample bosom, did that bother you?
When I first got in the business I didn’t exactly know how to take it. Sometimes it would kind of embarrass me and make me uneasy.
But then I realised that it was me showing it off with tight clothes and stuff. So, it don’t bother me as long as it’s in good taste. If it gets tacky, I don’t respond and that makes them look worse than it makes me feel bad. But I’m a good sport.
Were you ever bullied at school for having large breasts?
I never minded, but of course I have had them pumped up. I wasn’t born with them this big. I always had nice boobs as a teenager and as a country girl I looked pretty good for that.
But I have had them pumped up a little. But I never felt it was bullying, because I was the one that’s put them out there. I always say I don’t know if I’m supporting them or they’re supporting me. I just embrace it; it’s part of who I am, and it’s part of my persona, and it’s part of the Dolly look. How I feel inside is more important.
How do you keep in such great shape?
I have never been one to exercise, and I hate to go to the gym and sweat with other people. But I am good on my diddly squats, I do them about every day.
I try to do enough just to keep myself as healthy as I can. I don’t have any serious routines.
But I do have to watch my weight because I am short and I have a big appetite and a tendency to gain. I have been up and down in my life. But I try to do low carb during the week but then on weekends I just cheat and eat.
You had a successful run as a movie star playing opposite Burt Reynolds and Sylvester Stallone. Was that always your dream to become a movie star?
I never really dreamed of being a movie star. I always dreamed of being a star, but I had always linked it to my music. But as my career started to go well, I knew if it went the way I wanted it to, it would eventually lead to movies and Las Vegas and things like that. And I saw it also as an outlet for my music.
Do you ever read your reviews?
As a recording artiste, I always make it a point to read the reviews of albums even if it hurts your feelings, or sometimes embarrasses you. But if you’re smart, you won’t get mad at the people who do it.
You just try to figure out all the things that might be true so you can correct it next time out.
And if you know it’s not really true or if it’s just somebody’s opinion for one reason or another, then you just have to forget it and not let it affect you. But there’s something to be learned in all that, I think.
What is fame to you?
Well fame to me is like success. I have seen my dreams come true. This is what I wanted so now that I am successful, I try to share that as much with everybody as I can. I don’t just want to take and take from the business, I want to be in a position where I can help. And I often do.
Like the programme that we have, The Imagination Library, where we give books to children all over the world.
You’ve had a successful marriage for a long time.
Too damn long! (laughs)
Actually, I have been married for 52 years. It will be 53 years in May of next year. My husband and I even renewed our vows on our 50th anniversary.
And I got to wear a big beautiful wedding gown and my husband got all dressed up, and we got to take all those beautiful pictures that we didn’t have a chance to do when we were married the first time.
Your husband stays out of the limelight. We’ve seen maybe one picture of him in all these years.
And that probably wasn’t really him. There are a few, but the one on the Internet, they say it’s Carl but it’s really my bus driver. My husband hardly ever gets out.
And that’s why we have lasted so long; he stays home and I stay gone.
In which way does he help you? What do you do together?
He’s very much a homebody, he’s very much a loner. He doesn’t like to be with anyone else but me, except the people he works with.
He’s from a family of three, he’s got a sister and a brother, whereas I’m from a large family.
But we have a lot in common; he loves to drive and he is an outdoorsman, so he loves working on tractors and trucks and all that stuff.
We have a good time together. We have our little thing, we cook, we picnic, we have our little RV and we travel around and I make picnics.
Coming from a large family and having many younger siblings, a few of whom you’ve brought up yourself, is that why you never had any children of your own?
It just wasn’t meant for me to have children. I’m one of eight children, I have a sister and two brothers that are older. And you’re right, a lot of the younger ones did come to live with me and my husband. And some of them went to school while with us.
My husband and I, when we first met, we assumed we would have kids and I even had names picked out, but it never did happen. But now that I have the Imagination Library and I’ve worked with so many children, I always think it wasn’t meant for me, and that everybody’s kids could be mine.
Had I had a bunch of kids on my own, I probably would have been so devoted to them, I wouldn’t have been able to do so many things for others. So, my husband and I don’t regret it.
We think about it sometimes and we think, “Lord if we had some kids now and grandkids, they would just be driving us crazy!”