What is the most exciting thing you have ever looked forward to? A birthday, Christmas, going to the zoo, going to the Maldives?
As you have got older has it been more difficult to get excited?
For me it has. We take for granted the big occasions because we are spoilt for choice. But today, now, I am excited. I have a ticket to see Dolly Parton on stage at the NEC!
I have loved Dolly since 1973 when ‘Jolene‘ was released. Dolly was a well known Country & Western singer but not widely recognised outside the genre. Back then I was starting out as the first depot manager of a transport depot in the National Freight Company, determined to prove to the world that I could hack it. The organisation had its eyes on me, waiting for me to fail – because I was a girl. Dolly was frowned upon by all her fans because she was selling out. I loved her voice and her chutzpah and felt a certain trans-Atlantic affinty.
Since then she has been astounding; a fantastic singer, a song-writer, an actress but also a businesswoman and a philanthropist. You might not know too much about the last two roles; Dolly doesn’t exactly hide her light under a bushel but she doesn’t broadcast it far and wide either.
Dolly has always kept control of her career and has broken new ground. Famously she would not sell the publishing rights to ‘I Will Always Love You‘ to Elvis. Good decision Dolly – think of its reincarnation with Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard. She has created the songs, kept control of them and experimented with new ways of handling the music business. She has her own film and TV production company. Maybe that seems the obvious development for an all-round performer. It wasn’t when she did it.
Maybe you think branding is another obvious avenue for her. Not branding like this! She set out to transform herself into her vision of female beauty (local hooker meets town trash). Love her or hate her if you are in mid-life you know this blonde bombshell. She used to be buxom in her rhinestones now she is slender and svelte, often in buckskin. As she says it costs a lot to look this cheap. She set out to become her vision and now the brand is maintained with surgical help. It’s not for me but I admire it, the brand has personality and is unmistakable. I also love the way she sends herself up mainly for the bosom, the wigs and the surgeon’s bills. There have been down times in her life but she has never failed to laugh at herself and no one in the business has anything but respect for her – no snide comments.
Then there is her charitable work. She founded and runs Dollywood in Pigeon Forge in a very poor part of Tennessee. It employs family and friends and generates tourism. Like Dolly, it is a ridiculous concept but enormous fun; the basic idea is to get as wet as possible! If you ever have an opportunity to go along do.
Then there is the Imagination Library in Tennessee. Coming from a family of twelve children she had very little that was her very own and not much in the way of an education – her foundation sends a book a month to every child from its birth until it attends kindergarten. The book is packaged and mailed to the child by name so it owns something as well as having the excitement of the book to read. The idea has been hugely successful and is now copied with her foundation’s help all over the world. It has been operating in Rotherham since 2007.
So, Dolly has been an inspiration to me for forty years. She is a living lesson that just because something hasn’t been done doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Each of us can live our dream; if we can visualise what we want and keep focused on it, we can make it happen. I think everyone should find an inspirational buddy who can remind them what is possible. I think it is even better if you can get to know the person and talk to them when times get tough. That is why I do the work I do – everyone needs a place to think and explore their own ideas to refine them and become more certain about what they want to be.
So thank you Dolly; thank you for the music, the laughter and the pleasure you have given me; thank you for showing the world that blondes can be funny and bright; and thank you for inspiring me that any thing is possible. See you in Birmingham!