I'VE BEEN a huge fan of Dolly Parton ever since I was a kid, and to me, she's the consummate entertainer. I can remember coming into the kitchen when my mother was doing the washing up, and hearing the song 'Jolene' playing, and loving it, but when I was younger, being a fan of country music was almost shameful.
Dolly is an incredible talent, but I think lots of people don't see that because they never get past the way she looks, but that's fine with me, because I don't want everyone to love her as much as I do. She's my secret. There's always an odd mix at any Dolly concert . . . there'll be a pile of gays at it, and loads of older and middleaged folk from the country, all wearing sequinned cowboy hats.
Obviously, as a gay, I think Dolly's fun and colourful, and of course, I love the fact that she's all plastic and big wigs and make-up. I think that for your average non-Dolly fan, her image gets in the way of people appreciating what a real talent she is. She has written some amazing hit songs like 'I Will Always Love You' and '9 to 5', and if you've ever seen her being interviewed, you'll know that she's very sharp and witty.
Dolly started off her life completely dirt-poor, literally scratching around the mud and living in a shack in Tennessee.
She's been working since she was a child, because she sang on TV when she was nine, and had her first record out when she was 12.
To stay as famous as Dolly has for so long, means you have to be focused, ambitious and hardworking, and you also have to be nice . . . the bastards get found out eventually. She never gets grumpy, and is always thankful for what she has and where she is today, and she works really hard at it all. She's very forwardlooking, and also embraces new things, for example when disco came along, she had a go at that, and now she's always on the internet.
Dolly was born in 1946 and is 61 now, which is unbelievable. She looks incredible, and she openly admits that she's had lots of work done.
Part of why I love her is because even though she looks all plastic and painted up, she's actually a very real person.
When she's talking about her Dollywood theme park and what it does for the local community, some people think it comes across as schmaltzy or fake, but it's not at all, because she's actually really like that.
Dollywood is the most visited attraction in the whole of western America, and the vast majority of the money that comes from it goes to her charity, the Imagination Library, which educates children around reading and supplies books to schools.
Dolly comes from a family with tons of kids, but she never had any of her own.
There's another layer to her that makes me fascinated, of course, and that's the suggestion that has always been around that she's a lesbian. Whether it's true or not, it's another great rumour.
She has been married to the same man, Carl Dean, for the past 40 years, and she married him when she was only 20. He is never, ever seen, because he's always way in the background, and never goes to any events with her. The rumours are that her lover is actually her assistant Judy, who has also been with her for a million years.
You definitely get the sense that even if she and Carl are just a platonic thing, they really do love one another, and they're always comfortable with each other. Even though they rarely say something about one another, when they do, it's always very nice. I like to imagine that they're like faghag and best gay friend. She always records one song on every album especially for Carl, and it's usually a cover of the kind of music that he likes, like 'Stairway to Heaven'.
Dolly is very approachable too, and she actually recorded a video message for us at the Alternative Miss Ireland competition, which she didn't have to do because, to her, we're just nothings a million miles away. She didn't just do some sort of bland, generic greeting either . . . she played along and joked about drag queens, and let's face it, Britney Spears isn't going to do that for you.
I think she's just outstandingly sweet and bubbly and fun, and I love that about her. She's a very complex person too, and very Christian, and she goes on about God and really believes in all of that, but while so many Christians can actually be very hateful towards gays etc, Dolly is never like that. Her Christianity stuff is never off-putting, because as far as she's concerned, it's her God, and he loves everybody.
They had a gay day at Dollywood a while back, and there were some initial objections raised in the surrounding community in Tennessee. Dolly said that she would rather close the park completely, than close it off to any particular groups, so the gay day went ahead.
Everything I do in my new show, All Dolled Up, has a bit of Dolly's influence in it, and she definitely gets referenced.
What I love about her is that dichotomy that she looks so fake and plastic on one level, but deep down she's so completely real. You could definitely bring her home to your mother for Sunday lunch and she'd fit right in.