'A sprinkle of glitter to cherished memories': Meeting Dolly

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So let’s be honest, if someone says “Would you like to interview Dolly Parton?” you aren’t going to say no are you?

But I don’t think Sky’s interviews team were quite expecting my high-pitched squeals of excitement.

Like many born in the 70s, Dolly Parton was the background music to much of my childhood.

Oozing glitz and glamour she always seemed in love with life itself.



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Our meeting was to be at the Savoy (how very Dolly), shortly after she touched down to promote her new “9 to 5” stage show.

My love affair with her huge hair and admirable embonpoint had continued into my adolescence.

I’d started to really listen to the lyrics I’d been bopping along to for years.

“Just because I’m a woman” about a girl asking not to be judged for her sexual past, “9 to 5” about women deserving equality at work, and “Dumb blonde” a reminder not to judge on appearances as she “ain’t nobody’s fool”.

Jayne Secker let out 'squeals of excitement' when she learned she would be meeting Dolly Parton
Image:
Jayne Secker let out ‘squeals of excitement’ when she learned she would be meeting Dolly Parton

She was on my dream dinner party list from then on.

Fast forward a few years and I was in Iraq working as a correspondent for Sky News covering the second Gulf War.

The rickety car we were using to drive around Basra had an old mix tape stuck in the radio.

It was a collection of pretty dull stuff and then “Jolene” came on.

In need of some light as we surveyed the devastation around us the whole team whooped with joy.

The song will forever remind me of that trip and the war.

'How very Dolly': Sky met the country music singer at the Savoy in London
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‘How very Dolly’: Sky met the country music singer at the Savoy in London

As the interview day approached one final memory came to mind.

Newly arrived in London I had taken my (now deceased) mum for a drive down the ever-so-groovy King’s Road.

It was a gloriously sunny day and we sang “9 to 5” at the top of our lungs like two bad extras in Ab Fab.

We didn’t care that everyone was staring at the traffic lights.

So it was with trepidation that I arrived at the hotel.

What if Dolly was a diva? Wouldn’t answer my questions? Keep us waiting for hours? Would my memories be sullied?

Dolly Parton speaks to Sky News about 9 to 5 the musical
Image:
Dolly Parton speaks to Sky News about 9 to 5 the musical

After whispering to the doorman “We’re here to see Dolly”, Sky producer Lauren and I were escorted to her suite – via England’s oldest elevator.

Past security and lots of PR people, we finally reached the inner sanctum.

And there was diminutive Dolly, surrounded by a bank of blinding lights – “Oh I need all the help I can get at my age,” she giggled welcoming us in.

Despite having flown all night and probably feeling every one of her 73 years, she was charming and self-deprecating throughout.

Dolly Parton pictured in the UK in 1977
Image:
Dolly Parton pictured in the UK in 1977

No questions were off-limits but she skilfully batted off those she didn’t want to answer.

I asked what she thought of Donald Trump boasting about grabbing women by a certain part of their anatomy.

“Oh I don’t comment on individuals” she said, “…but I do think those in politics should treat others with respect.”

She repeatedly referred to “doing her job” and “doing her best” and it’s clear she’s a professional performer down to her bones.

Our 10-minute allotted time whizzed by and as the interview finished we asked nervously if she would mind a selfie?

She leapt up all smiles and happily obliged us both.

There’s no getting away from it, meeting someone who has been the soundtrack to your life is a surreal experience.

But when they live up to your expectations like Dolly did, it adds a sprinkle of glitter to those already cherished memories.

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