The voluptuous, country and western singer Dolly Parton, 56, was raised in poverty with 11 brothers and sisters on a farm in Tennessee before heading for Nashville as a teenager. Since then she has had hit album after hit album; received Grammys and Oscar nominations for classics such as "Nine to Five", "Jolene" and "I Will Always Love You"; established a reputation as an actress; and opened a theme park, Dollywood, near her home in Williamson County, Tennessee. Parton, whose latest album Halos and Horns is out in July, lives with her husband of 36 years, Carl Dean.
You are a formidable businesswoman and very independent. Do you consider yourself a feminist?
No, I consider myself feminine. I consider myself a woman with some talent and some power, some guts and some spunk, but I would have been that if I'd been a man. I think women should be treated equally, and I'm going to see to it that I am.
You're known for your curves. Have they ever got you into trouble?
Well yes, but that's why I had curves – I wanted them to get me into trouble. I've never felt like I couldn't handle it. I had six brothers; I totally understand and love men. Some women are intimidated by them but I've always known how to manoeuvre. I look like a woman but I think like a man
Would you leave the house without make-up?
Not unless Carl was dead. Maybe if I had to get him to the hospital in the middle of the night, but I'm not even sure about that – I might make him hang on so I could at least get a little lipstick on. But seriously though, when I'm in California, they're so prone to earthquakes you never know when you're going to have to run out in the street, so usually I'll sleep with my make-up on – well, at least my eye make-up. I wouldn't go out without it – I'd rather be dead.
You've had some nips and tucks over the years ...
Oh sure. I'm gonna have some more when I need them.
What would you recommend most?
I've done mine in little bits and pieces so I couldn't say for sure, but I think that's the way you should do it. Instead of having some godawful great body lift or huge facelift, you should take care of the little problem areas as they come up and then you don't ever look weird. But I'd recommend everything I've had done. Whatever I see that's bagging, dragging or sagging, I just go fix it.
Your look is quite brassy. Are you hiding a private self behind it?
No, I think I've been around long enough for people to pretty much know what I'm about. Of course a lot of how I look comes out of a place of insecurity or just a country girl's idea of what glamour is. I wear high heels because I'm short. I wear long fingernails because my hands are short. I wear my big hairdos and wigs and stuff because my hair won't do what I want it to. So any negatives I have I turn into positives.
Is it about being a celebrity?
I would do it even if I wasn't in showbusiness. I would be a waitress spending all my wages on make-up and bleach and high-heeled shoes. I think of my make-up as a box of crayons and I look at myself as a blank canvas – I like getting paint on there. It makes me feel better. I'm not a natural beauty. It's not that I'm beautiful with all that shit either – it's just that's what I enjoy and what makes me comfortable.
Your new album's about sinners and saints. Have you got a heightened sense of guilt?
My grandfather was a Pentecostal preacher and I think that all people who were brought up in a fundamental church like I was are left with some sort of guilt when they stray a little bit. But I don't agree with it. What I say is I'm too good to be bad and too bad to be good – I'm sort of caught somewhere in the middle.
You grew up with 11 brothers and sisters. Weren't you desperate for a bit of peace and quiet?
Yes I was. When I was a kid there were eight children younger than me and when they were crying all night, I used to think, God, if I could just get out this house and go somewhere that's quiet. That's why I'd take my guitar and go out to the barn or up to the woods. But after I moved to Nashville, those first few weeks, I just about died. It was like where are y'all? I'd have given anything to hear the baby crying, or have some toenails digging into my shinbones in the middle of the night.
Did having so many screaming kids around have anything to do with your decision not to have your own?
No, in the early days me and my husband thought we wanted children so we didn't do anything to stop them for many years. But then I raised five of my brothers and sisters, and they've had their own children too. I don't know that I would have been a great mother, but I made a great aunt and I make a really great granny. They all call me aunt granny.
How are you different to the teenage girl who arrived in Nashville in 1964?
I'm the same girl I was then. I've never moved away from my home and my family and I still wake up every day and feel like I'm just starting my career – I still love what I do. But as the years pass by, well, if you go along with the idea that wisdom comes with age I'm certainly old enough to be real smart! I guess I've learned what to do and what not to do. I've learned to watch what comes out of my mouth – my daddy said it's better to choose what you say instead of say what you choose. I've learned to temper myself and pace myself and not to burn myself out. You have to learn these things and they can only come with time.
The album 'Halos and Horns' is released 8 July on Sanctuary/Sugar Hill Records
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