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Dolly Parton on 60 years of entertainment and why she loves New Zealand

Six decades on, the dynamic diva is unstoppable. What a way to make a living!

By Marilynn McLachlan
To thine own self be true. Know who you are and do it on purpose." This is the quote the global phenomenon that is Dolly Parton lives by. And at 77, she shows no sign of slowing down – in fact, she's doing quite the opposite, releasing a new book and a powerful new album.
"I've always said that I live on creative and spiritual energy," she says. "Creative energy is a very powerful force that I just allow to lead me along. But I leave my heart open and my eyes open and my ears open, so I gotta try to stay in tune with what's going on. If I feel there's something out there that I'm supposed to be getting, I want to try to get in that space to get it.
"Faith is a big part of my life," she says, adding that she doesn't push her beliefs on anyone. "That's what keeps me happy and helps me rise above a lot of things. I think it's important to have something you believe in. Call it whatever you want to, but you need to believe in something bigger than you so you have somewhere to go, something to draw from, because if you believe that it's all about you, then it makes things hard."
Dolly is speaking to the Weekly via Zoom in all her signature glamorous glory, her Southern drawl strong. At one point, she asks for a question to be repeated. "You know you've got an accent, right?" she laughs. "I don't, but you do. I love your accent, I really do. I just listen in hillbilly."
She is excited to speak about her new projects.
"It's a lot of stories behind the scenes and it really lets people know about a lot of the people that make these things happen," she says of her book, Behind the Seams: My Life in Rhinestones. "I just get to wear them and get to be famous for it."
The 330-page coffee table-sized book takes a wonderful trip down memory lane of her most famous outfits, as well as those that are lesser-known. Born in a one-bedroom cabin in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, she was the fourth child of 12 and from as young as she can remember, she was cultivating her own style.
It's something she encourages everyone to do.
"I think it's important that people be comfortable in their own skin and their own clothes, in their own house and in their own mind," Dolly explains. "Comfort is a major thing and I've always believed that people should wear what fits their personality and what they're most comfortable at, even if it's bizarre to someone else."
An inspiration and global success – she has won 11 Grammy Awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011, from 51 nominations, second only to Beyoncé – her lyrics and music have captivated people across generations. Songs such as Jolene and 9 to 5 are as popular now as they ever were. It's something she has thought about in great detail.
"I think people are just really familiar with me. I've been at this for six decades now, so little kids have grown up with me, with their parents or grandparents. People kind of think of me like an aunt or a sister or a neighbour, somebody they've always known and they're comfortable with. But as far as the children are concerned – well, my name is Dolly and they can relate to that with having a doll. And my voice has always been high and I'm over-exaggerated like a cartoon character, so I can see why kids would pay attention."
But she's also quick to point out that it's different for the older generations.
Below: The fourth child in the family, Dolly grew up alongside 11 siblings.
"Hopefully, the grown-ups know how serious I am about my work, and the songs I write and the stories that I tell and the message I'm trying to portray. I hope they can see that seriousness."
This is most recently reflected in World on Fire, a song on her new album Rockstar. In many ways, it's a call to action, an anthem and includes lyrics such as, "How do we heal this great divide? Do we care enough to even try?" She wrote it after the album was finished, calling back the production crew for another recording session because she thought it was necessary and, "it certainly fits now or even more than it did then".
She explains, "I felt the need to write it because of all the craziness going on in the world. It has been going on since time began, but it just seems like in the last few years, we've kind of lost a grip. It's like we're not even trying to make things better, that we don't even seem to care, and that troubles me a great deal because my heart is very tender when it comes to people and suffering."
Breaking into song, she adds, "Can't we just rise above? Can we show some love?... It's just the point that there is some light on some dark, dark days that we've been having."
Rockstar is Dolly's first foray into the world of rock 'n' roll, with 21 of the 30 songs in collaboration with greats such as Debbie Harry, Pink, Stevie Nicks and Pat Benatar, as well as her goddaughter Miley Cyrus.
She was 18 when she married love of her life Carl.
When she was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame last year, she decided, "Well, if I'm ever gonna do a rock album, now's the time to do it." So she got right on it.
She tells, "I didn't think I deserved to be in there when there were so many other great artists, so I thought, 'I should do an album so I can earn my keep.' I asked some of these great people to sing with me and they were all very kind about it, and I'm so proud of the album."
She chose the songs based on two factors – that her husband, Carl Dean, loved them and that she felt she could sing them.
Last October, Dolly announced she'd no longer be touring as she wanted to spend more time with Carl, 81, who is a longtime fan of rock 'n' roll. "I've got so many business things I'm doing," she said then. "My husband and I are getting older – he's a little older than I am – and I kind of need to be with him."
The couple met almost 60 years ago and Dolly was 18 when she married the businessman. Although they are notorious for keeping details of their relationship private, Dolly shares that the secret of their lasting love is rather simple.
"Well, we have a lot of good times together. We both have a great and warped sense of humour, so we can get through almost anything by taking the light-hearted side about it. We have a lot of respect for each other and I just like him. I think there's a lot to be said about that. Of course, I've always loved him.
"We have a lot in common, but yet we have so many differences that it makes life interesting and gives us things to talk about."
Wowing an Auckland crowd in 2014.
Yet while they're spending their twilight years together, Dolly isn't ruling out a return to New Zealand. Our country, it turns out, has as much a special place in her heart as she does in ours.
"I love New Zealand," she says. "I've been there many times. Kenny Rogers and I spent five weeks in Australia and New Zealand for the Islands in the Stream tour we did [in 2014] and we love the people. When we had some days off, we would enjoy the scenery and being tourists. Kenny was a photographer, so he used to take a lot of pictures of me and other things as well. But we loved the people, we loved the food... we just loved everything about it."
In fact, she was so impressed, she almost bought a property here, before the reality of New Zealand's location in the world put an end to that idea.
"It's 20 hours to get there! We couldn't just say, 'Oh, we're going to New Zealand for the weekend.'"
However, she reveals, she may yet come back to our shores. "Never say never," she teases. "You never know when you might come back for whatever reason. I might do a movie and come for a premiere or build a hotel or something. It'd be a good reason to come. I just wish it was a little closer."

The world according to Dolly

'When someone shows you their true colours, believe them'
'Don't get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life'
'People always ask me how long it takes to do my hair. I don't know – I'm never there'
'People say, "How do you stay looking so young?" I say, "Good lighting, good doctors and good make-up"'
'The magic is inside you – there ain't no crystal ball'
'My songs are like my children – I expect them to support me when I'm old'

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