Glastonbury 2014: Dolly Parton - the debutante who is so fake she’s real

Proud of her brassy looks and enhanced figure, the 68-year-old country star may seem an odd choice for the festival. Not so, says David Usborne

Glastonbury is a music festival for scholars of the authentic. It’s real-deal honest, and fans expect the same of the artists and their music. Synthesised, fake and plastic can go elsewhere. So what will they make of the superstar headliner from America who will perform at its 44th edition on Sunday?

If you don’t know who that is, just say “Jolene” in your head and more than likely you will hear it echo back three more times to ascending chords that will then tell you two more things: country music and Dolly Parton. And your next thought, quite likely, is boob job and just about everything else job. We have never seen her real hair and the mouth seems to have slipped some way off the horizontal. She is fake on two legs.

Dolly Parton's enigmatic set 'biggest attraction since the Rolling Stones'

The festival’s curator, Emily Eavis, has mixed things up before, like when she invited hip-hop hero Jay-Z to the main stage a few years back. And with Parton, who at 68 is 18 months older than Hillary Clinton, she might have expected trouble. This is a woman who once entered a Dolly Parton look-alike drag contest and lost, to a man. She runs a seriously cheesy theme park in Tennessee called Dollywood and, let’s face it, got famous partly from making floozy films. Have you seen The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas?

 

Yet Parton will fit right in, precisely because contrary to all that she is as honest and authentic as you get. The reassembled features? She talks about them openly. “I am not a natural beauty. So I need all the help I can get,” she said with characteristic self-deprecation recently. Her best-known line is this: “It takes a lot of money to make a person look this cheap.” What’s to hide? It’s her (very valuable) brand.

Read more: Dolly Parton at Glastonbury
Glastonbury set times
All you need to know about Glastonbury in 8 fun charts

She’s game for Sunday. “I’ve heard that people from all walks of life come,” she told the Radio Times. “They smoke a lot of dope and drink a lot of booze, like most festivals, right? But then there’s a lot of people that don’t. They just come to listen to the music. Who cares, as long as they’re having a good time?”

She might even be moved to share a little of her ink. In May, she caused a flurry by confirming, if a little coyly, long-running rumours of hidden tattoos on her arms and breasts. “I do have a few little tattoos,” she said. “But they were mostly done to cover scars because I’m so fair… so it started with that.”

Nor is there anything phoney about her life story, from a one-room cabin in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee to her 26-room home near Nashville, or her musical talent. She won’t be at Worthy Farm on sufferance; she’ll be there to be saluted. She is an eight-time Grammy winner, is twice Oscar-nominated, has sold 100 million records and, by the way, wrote 3,000 of her own songs including most of her hits.

The life story she has told often, but it’s never less compelling. Born the fourth of 12 children on 19 January 1946 to Robert Lee Parton, an illiterate tobacco farmer, and his wife Avie Lee, she had a hardscrabble start that she would later describe in the song “Coat of Many Colours”. She learned music from her holy-roller preacher grandfather, and from aged seven was singing on local radio stations. The day after she finished high school she packed up and left for Nashville to seek stardom. A day later she was approached by a man outside the Wishy Washy launderette. Two years later they were married.

Dolly Parton in London,1977 Dolly Parton in London,1977 (Getty)

Carl Dean, 73, has been her husband ever since. In other words, she has had only one. (And she has never had the alcohol or drug problems that have afflicted other country stars.) Dean is never seen in public and there have been the occasional rumours, not least about Kenny Rogers, with whom she used to perform often and was the other half of perhaps the best country duet of all time, “Islands in the Stream”.

Two years ago, Rogers moved to clear the rumours up. “Everybody always thought we were having an affair,” he told the Huffington Post. “We didn’t. We just teased each other.” He also said this: “She is one of the most honest people I know. Dolly has no filter. If it goes in her mind, it comes out her mouth and I think that’s what makes her so special.” And that’s why she admits to a saucy streak. “I love to flirt, and I’ve never met a man I didn’t like,” she told one interviewer recently. “Men are my weakness… but Carl knows I’ll always come home and I’m not having sex with these people – I’m just flirtin’ and having fun.”

That doesn’t fit with the other whispers that resurface every now and then, that over all these years she has actually been in a lesbian relationship with a childhood friend, Judy Ogle. They are talked about rather like Oprah Winfrey and her friend Gayle King are. “Like Gayle, her friend, Judy, my friend... they just think that you just can’t be that close to somebody,” Parton said in 2012. “Judy and I have been best friends since we were like in the third and fourth grade. We still just have a great friendship and relationship and I love her as much as I love anybody in the whole world, but we’re not romantically involved.”

There is one group of fans who wouldn’t mind if they were. She is not quite Cher, but Dolly nonetheless has captured the hearts of many gay men. It’s partly that the costumes shout “Camp!” but she hasn’t hidden her support of gay rights either. “I don’t think it’s anybody’s place to judge another,” she has said. “That’s God’s business who we are and God loves us all. I think people know I’m open and accepting of all God’s people.” But she is also admired more widely as a woman who has made it on her own terms. She prefers not to call herself a feminist but the message about empowered women is there, thanks not only to her role alongside Jane Fonda in the 1980 film 9 to 5 and her hit song that came with it, but also for her recent defence of goddaughter Miley Cyrus. 

Dolly collaborated with Kenny Rogers on the country duet, “Islands in the Stream” Dolly collaborated with Kenny Rogers on the country duet, “Islands in the Stream” (Getty)

It is a label that has come also with her business success. (Her personal fortune is estimated at about $450m/£260m). It began almost as soon as she stepped off that bus in Nashville and she started writing songs with her uncle, Bill Owens, many of them chart-toppers. Her first real break came in 1967 when she became a regular on Porter Wagoner’s country music road show. Her decision to leave it and strike out on her own in 1974 led her to write “I Will Always Love You”. When Elvis Presley asked if he could record it she declined because he wanted half the royalties in perpetuity. It was a decision that paid off years later when Whitney Houston did her own version that earned Parton very much more. It was also in 1974 that “Jolene” hit the charts in the US. In 1976, it became her first major British hit, reaching number seven.

Parton has never made any apology that in later years she branched out in two ways, becoming one of the first country stars actively to cross over more into the pop genre and also to take the Hollywood shilling with roles in several other films including Steel Magnolias and Straight Talk. She once put it this way: “I had to get rich in order to afford to sing like I was poor again.” When the show is as diffuse and crazy as Glastonbury, it’s hard for anyone to steal it. But on Sunday Dolly Parton, wig, boobs, heels and all, will give it a darned good try.

A life in brief

Born: 19 January 1946, in Sevier County, Tennessee.

Family: The fourth of Robert Lee Parton and Avie Lee’s 12 children. Married for 48 years to Carl Dean.

Education: High school in Sevier County. The day after graduating, in 1964, she moved to Nashville and signed with Monument.

Career: Has had 25 songs reach No 1 on the Billboard country charts, a record for a female artist. Branched out into films and theme park ownership.

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders