Katie Hannon herself could barely believe it. "You never know who you're going to hear on the Liveline," she told us. "Never in my wildest dreams..." was how her next sentence began. And she wasn’t kidding. What followed was a Liveline like no other because there on the other end of the phone was Dolly Parton. Yes, you read that correctly. Dolly. Parton.
The first thing Katie and Dolly discussed was this year’s Dolly Day in Listowel, Co Kerry, which set a world record for the largest gathering of people wearing a full head-to-toe Dolly Parton costume, in aid of charity. And that got the conversation onto clothes and Dolly’s love of outfits and rhinestones and wigs and how her best friend Judy Ogle has been preserving Dolly’s outfits for years. Now the clothes have their own book:
"Somebody said, 'Well, you have your Songteller book, which was all about your songwriting and telling stories about your emotions and where you were and why you wrote it. Well, why don’t you do one about your clothes because that chronicles your life in costume, like that one does in songs.’ And so that’s where the idea came from."
That’s how Dolly’s new book, Behind the Seams: My Life in Rhinestone, came about. It features photographs of, as Dolly puts it, "all the crazy wigs and all the crazy things I’ve worn through the years." Katie told Dolly that she heard she had something like 200 wigs at one stage. That’s probably accurate, according to the woman herself:
"Oh, I’m sure I must have that many. I was just joking, saying I wear one almost every day, so I must have at least 365. I don’t know. ‘Course, we change ‘em out of course and I donate wigs and clothes to different museums or for different charities to sell. So, I have lots of clothes that are not in this book. I have warehouses full of costumes and things I’ve kept through the years, so who knows, we may have a volume two."
Where did Dolly’s style come from? Katie wanted to know. She must have stood out in Locust Ridge, Tennessee when she was growing up. Yes, she was certainly different, Dolly agrees:
"I was always one of those kids that wanted to be different. And I was different. So, I was kinds showbizzy in my head and my mind. I wanted to be more, I wanted to be colourful, I wanted to stand out, I wanted to be noticed... It just seemed natural for me to want to wear the kind of clothes I wore, even when I got in trouble for wearing some of them, when my preacher Grandpaw or even Momma sometimes would think, ‘Now, that’s a little much.’ And my Daddy would say, ‘That’s too much. Go take it off.’ Just as soon as he went to work, I’d put it back on."
Dolly says she wasn’t doing that to be mean or disobedient, she was doing it because that’s what she felt she needed to do:
"I guess that’s what true fashion is, is just wearing what you feel good in and what you’re comfortable in."
Katie told Dolly that she loved reading about her mother and what a strong woman she was. Dolly sounded delighted to talk about her mother and the special relationship they shared when she was growing up:
"She was a singer too, but Momma had a very open mind and she had a very open heart, very much like I do. I inherited a lot of that from her. But Momma understood me. She got it. She knew that she could trust me somehow."
Dolly's mother, Avie Lee, helped her daughter out with her unique wardrobe from a young age and when she got older and started appearing on TV:
"If I wanted, you know, a little extra push-up, in, you know, to make my boobs go together a little more and all that, well, Momma would say, ‘You better not tell your daddy,’ You know?"
Avie Lee – who had 12 children by the time she was 35 – was good at sowing, which, as well as helping Dolly with her style, lead to one of her best-loved songs and the one Dolly herself always names as her favourite, The Coat of Many Colors. The song is about a coat of scraps of different coloured material that Avie Lee sowed together for Dolly when she was a girl and how Dolly went into school all proud of herself, only for the other girls to make fun of her and rip the coat up:
"I was just really hurt about it, so I went home crying to Momma about it and telling her, ‘They said we is poor and my coat is just rags.’ And Momma said, ‘Hey look, we are not poor. There’s a lot of poor people in this world. Now we might not have store-bought stuff, we might not have money, but we’re rich in love and we’re rich in kindness and we’re rich in a lot of stuff that a lot of people don’t have. So I don’t want you to ever say that we’re poor, ‘cos we’re not.’"
Now you’re humming The Coat of Many Colors out loud, aren’t you? That’s fine, don’t worry about it. It’s not everyday Dolly actual Parton is on Liveline, after all.
You can hear Katie’s full chat with Dolly by clicking above.
Behind the Seams: My Life in Rhinestones by Dolly Parton is published by Ebury Press.