Dolly Parton can't wait to return to NZ, finds Paula Yeoman.

The Best of Dolly Parton

was one of the first albums I owned.

I was 11 and treated that piece of plastic like a precious treasure. A few years later in 1987, my parents took me to my first major concert - Dolly and Kenny [Rogers] at Auckland's Mt Smart Stadium.

The sparkly frocks, the wigs, the circular stage in the middle of the pitch from which the pint-sized star belted out back-to-back hits is a memory that will last with me a lifetime. Seeing Parton in the flesh marked the beginning of an on-going love affair with one of the most remarkable women in music.


Now, nearly 27 years on, the Tennessee-born singer is as popular as ever with baby-boomers. And in the past decade or so Parton has become cool. "I find that really wonderful. A lot of it has to do with the people who have been fans for a long time - they introduce their kids and their grandkids to me," she says.

And what's not to love? Parton and her instantly recognisable voice have traversed country, folk, gospel and pop like no other. She has penned some of the most memorable songs and is one of the most likeable personalities in show business.

When we speak on the phone about her world tour, Parton recalls in great detail the last time she was here, especially the warm welcome they received. "Kenny and I had the time of our lives. I remember all the love from the fans in New Zealand."

Parton is one of the most successful recording artists of all time, reportedly having sold more than 100 million records worldwide. She has had a record-breaking 25 number one songs in the Billboard charts, won seven Grammy Awards and 10 Country Music Association Awards.

Then there are her films - 9 To 5, The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas, Steel Magnolias and Rhinestone, numerous TV shows, 9 to 5 the musical, her philanthropy and her business interests, including the 61ha Tennessee amusement park, Dollywood, which attracts 2.5 million visitors a year.

"Once in a while I'll be watching something on TV and I think 'Oh my Lord. When did I do all that?' It shocks me sometimes," she says, erupting in laughter. "I've lived a full life.

I'm one of those people who can look back when I'm sitting in my rocking chair - next week ..." (and there's that giggle again) ... "And I can say, 'Wow, I really did all that, I have seen my dreams come true'. I am so thankful to my fans for that."

Parton says the industry has changed in the past five decades and she admits that if she had to do it all again in today's world, she may struggle. "It is so different now. I don't know if I'd be as lucky. But I'm sure I would give it a try. I wouldn't rest until I'd seen what I could do."

That steely determination clearly still drives Parton. It's why she has no intention of retiring. She will turn 68 next month, yet she's still one of the hardest-working entertainers in the business. She is preparing to release her new album, Blue Smoke, and is about to embark on a gruelling world tour from February to July.

Despite the hard work, there is always time for family - especially during the festive season. Parton says one of her favourite Christmas albums is the one she and Rogers did many years ago. "Usually we drag out the Kenny & Dolly album and we sing a lot of the songs."

Parton apologises that it's been so long since her return, but she promises it will be worth the wait.

"There will be all the songs people love - 9 to 5, Jolene, Here You Come Again. We'll be doing some medleys of the old songs and I'll be doing my gospel thing and some bluegrass. I think it's going to be a fun show."

Dolly Parton plays Vector Arena on February 7 and 8.