Lynette Fay: Who would I be for a day? That's easy – Dolly

Last week it was revealed that Dolly Parton had contributed $1 million towards Covid-19 vaccine research taking place at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. We could all be a lot like Dolly...

Lynette Fay – even though Dolly Parton doesn’t identify as a feminist, I look up to her as such. Picture by Press Eye/Darren Kidd
Lynette Fay

SINCE returning to work after maternity leave in June of this year, I have had an on-air chat every week with my colleague Vinny Hurrell, who presents his show from 3-4pm on Radio Ulster on Fridays. (I present Monday-Thursday 3-4)

During these quick chats, Vinny very much enjoys putting me on the spot, and asks me all sorts of questions. I usually have my hands across my eyes when answering as I am squirming inside at the thought of what he might ask. One of the questions last week was, if I could be anyone for a day, who would I be and why? For once, I had no problem answering – I would be Dolly Parton.

Last week it was revealed that Dolly had contributed to the Moderna Covid vaccine research. In April she made a million-dollar donation to the Vanderbilt University in Nashville when her good friend Dr Nadj Abumrad, who works in the Immunology and Inflammation department there, told her that they were making “some exciting advancements” in the search for a cure for the virus. This pot of money became known as the Dolly Parton Covid-19 research fund.

Dr Nadj and Dolly stayed in touch after he treated her when she was involved in a car crash in 2014.


In February of this year, in a pre-Covid world, I was obsessed with the podcast series Dolly Parton’s America, made by a US radio host called Jad Abumrad – who is the son of Dr Nadj Abumrad.

Over the course of two years, Jad interviewed Dolly and highlights from these conversations are central to the podcast series. Dolly speaks honestly and openly to him – so openly, in fact, that I would happily listen through the recordings in their entirety if I was ever presented with the opportunity to do so.

Although he grew up in Nashville and knew nothing of the world of country music, Jad recognised not only the universal appeal of Dolly Parton, but also her ability to unite the American people where politicians – and presidents – had failed.

She doesn't practice religion, she lives it. She is always pleasant, funny, self-deprecating – she knows exactly what people say about her appearance – particularly her cosmetic enhancements, and she laughs. She has points to make, and she does so with class. We could all be a lot like Dolly.

Even though she’s the woman who encourages us to ‘pour a cup of ambition’ as part of our 9 to 5, Dolly doesn’t identify as a feminist. Personally, I look up to her as such. She grew up in poverty, was one of 11 children and knew her value from a very early age. She invested in herself.

After getting a big break on The Porter Wagoner Show in the 60s, she became bigger than the show, and she knew it. With self-belief and without arrogance, she called time on the on-screen partnership, much to Porter’s disappointment. He then inspired the song, I Will Always Love You.

She is a phenomenal businesswoman. She remains apolitical. She never takes sides, yet she seems to have an incredible social conscience and gets it right when it comes to doing the right thing.

Best known for Coat Of Many Colours, Butterfly, Jolene and I Will Always Love You, Dolly has written 3,000 songs. When you dig into that back catalogue, you'll find songs about serious issues like miscarriage and suicide; Dolly was writing these songs at a time when talking openly about them was taboo.

In the final episode of the podcast, she says that she is actively planning her legacy. She particularly wants her music to live, so she’s aiming to record click tracks of her vocals with view to them being used by future generations of music producers. She has learned from the mistakes of others and has protected her publishing.

Helping with a breakthrough in a Covid vaccine is not all that Dolly has given the world in recent weeks. She has released two albums, her new Christmas film launched at the weekend on Netflix and she continues to do extraordinary work with her Imagination Library which gives under-privileged children the world over access to books.

Dolly will be 75 in January. It doesn't look like she’s going to retire any time soon. Underestimate this blonde bombshell at your peril.

Dolly Parton, I will always love you.

Oh, and altogether: ‘Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vacciiiiiine’. (I couldn’t resist.)

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