Dolly’s back on our screens thanks to BBC2

Saturday:Dolly Parton at the BBC; (BBC2, 8.30pm)

She’s the little woman with a big heart who’s beloved the world over – by fans of country music and others who simply admire her pluck, tenacity and sense of fun.

Dolly Parton has been a superstar for more than half a century, and that longevity would have been hard to achieve if she’d been nothing more than a dumb blonde. She’s far from being that, despite it being the title of one of her earliest hits.

Parton has certainly come a long way since being raised in a one-room shack in Tennessee with 11 siblings – behind the bouffant hair lies an astute businesswoman who is nobody’s fool.

Dolly Parton performing on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury, 2014

“I could never have made enough money to live the way I wanted to if all I had ever done was sung,” says the petite diva. “I had to think about the business side. Now it’s nice not to have to worry about record labels, managers and people telling you to do this and that.”

Music was a way of life among her family – it was her Uncle Bill who spotted that young Dolly might have something special when it came to writing and singing songs.

She penned her first tune at the age of five and two years later made her radio debut; at 13 she made her first appearance at the Grand Ole Opry, the home of country music in Nashville.

After school she earned a living as a songwriter, one of the few women to do so, before embarking on a singing career, eventually becoming the glitzy queen of country. She wore flashy dresses and wigs that looked like they needed scaffolding to support them on top of her tiny frame.

Parton later turned to acting, her breakthrough coming in the comedy 9 to 5, which she followed up with The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and Steel Magnolias. She even tried her hand at TV with her own self-titled series.

However, music remains her first love. One of her best-loved songs, I Will Always Love You, was a huge hit for Whitney Houston but it was another famous name who originally wanted to record it.

“Elvis loved a lot of my songs,” she reveals. “He wanted to record I Will Always Love You, but Colonel Tom Parker wanted me to sign away half the publishing rights. I thought, ‘These songs are for my family’s future’. I wasn’t going to give away half the publishing rights. I cried and everybody told me I was crazy. When it became a huge hit for Whitney I told those people, ‘Tom Parker would have had half of that if I had not used my business sense’.”

Another area which has seen Parton using her business acumen is Dollywood, a theme park which is Tennessee’s biggest tourist attraction – in non-Covid times, of course.

Now she’s back on our screens thanks to BBC Two, which is making her the latest focus of its Saturday music-themed evening schedule, following the likes of Amy Winehouse, Paul McCartney, Sting and Madonna.

After a dip into the archives for Dolly Parton at the BBC, there’s another chance to see the documentaries Here I Am and 50 Years at the Opry, as well as her 2014 Glastonbury performance.

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