Even when she’s talking about cold, hard cash, Dolly Parton manages to seem down to earth. She’s promoting her new children’s album “I Believe in You” and is in top, self-deprecating form, talking to the BBC.”It’s hard for me to spend money on tonnes of stuff because I’m going to look the same, no matter what I wear. If I wear diamonds I’m still going to look like a rhinestone,” she tells me. Still, if Dolly was inclined to buy diamonds, she could afford them. She’s known as much for her business acumen as her song-writing skills. At the start of her career she took lessons from her dad, she says: “Even though he wasn’t an educated man, he wasn’t able to read and write, daddy had a great sense of business.
“He said, ‘Don’t let other people take advantage of you, keep your mind on your business.’ So when I got into the music business I thought of it as a business.”Early on she launched her own publishing company and hung on to the rights to her songs, and she says that other artists should do the same. “As soon as you start making money, you should invest and get into other businesses that you can fall back on if you don’t make it big, or if you make it big and you fall on hard times.”That attitude has served her well over the years and continues to do so, according to Forbes magazine’s Celebrity 100 list. It claims Dolly earned $37m (£28m) in the year to June 2017, with most of this coming from her Pure and Simple concert tour and income from her Dollywood theme park in Tennessee.
Brian Warner, founder of website CelebrityNetworth.com, estimates her total fortune to be $500m (£379m) but says this is conservative. “We think that Dollywood alone is worth around $200m; $100m for the land itself and $100m for the brand – you could class it as an intangible asset. “On top of that she makes a lot of money from touring and has had a 50-year career in which she’s sold millions of records and has also written songs for other artists.”Mr Warner says “I will always love you”, a hit Dolly wrote and recorded in 1973, has made her more than $20m in total. He explains that although individual music contracts may vary, “as the writer of a song you might be keeping 50% of the revenue or more and as a writer and performer you could be getting 80%”.
Dolly’s own version of “I Will Always Love You” was a big commercial success, topping the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart twice, in 1974 and 1982. Whitney Houston made the song a hit all over again when she recorded a version for the 1992 film The Bodyguard. It was number one for 10 weeks in the UK charts and for 14 weeks in the US. The song had another resurgence in 2012 after Ms Houston’s death. More The Boss features, which every week profile a different business leader from around the world:The proceeds from Dolly’s latest album won’t be adding to her fortune, though; instead they’ll be going to the Imagination Library. Set up in 1995 it aims to improve child literacy by distributing free books to children in the US, Canada, the UK and Australia.
Dolly says her own impoverished childhood in Tennessee inspired the library and has shaped her attitude to money in general.”Being brought up poor means I don’t take things for granted, and no matter how much money I make, I’ll always count my blessings quicker and more often than I count my money. She has “always realised the value of a dollar”, too.”Even now if I go in a store it’s hard for me to pay a huge amount of money for one item. I say ‘good Lord’, what could mummy and daddy have done with that!”
At 71 years old, Dolly’s career has spanned more than five decades and following her Glastonbury performance in 2014 she’s reached a whole new audience. So what’s the secret of her longevity? “I think a lot of people can relate to me, because of my upbringing and because I’m from a big family. I think people see me as an aunt, an older sister or a cousin. I’ve been around so long I’m part of their family.”Dolly will be hoping that this loyal fan base will support ambitious plans to expand her empire.The DreamMore hotel at Dollywood, opened in 2015, is “doing well” and she is thinking of franchising it. She’d also like to do more kids projects and launch a line of wigs, cosmetics and clothes. “I’ve still got a lot to do… I’m going to be an old lady before I get it done but at least I’m going to be working till I fall over dead!”Dolly Parton is a force of nature and a tremendously successful one at that; it’s hard to imagine her ever stopping.