Dolly finally addresses gay rumours
FOR 53 years her marriage has been the most rock solid in all of showbiz, yet the world's greatest living country star Dolly Parton remains dogged by rumours about her sexuality.
The theory that won't go away suggests that her lifetime best friend Judy Ogle is actually her partner, even though she renewed her wedding vows with low-profile husband Carl Dean, 76, to mark their fifth decade together.
It's a frustration for the 9 To 5 singer, 73, who for six decades has been a groundbreaking female artist, constantly pushing social boundaries with her unique mix of raunchy femininity and empowered feminism.
On the sexuality whispers, Parton shakes her head and says: "So people say that - because you can't really have a great relationship with a woman. I'm not gay but I have so many gay friends and I accept everybody for who they are."
It's clear her feelings for Judy, who she regularly describes as her "girlfriend", are strong, even though they are purely platonic. The pair have been a force together in the same way as Oprah Winfrey, 65, and her best friend Gayle King, 64, who have been struck by similar claims.
"Well, people love to talk, people love to gossip. They've said that about Oprah but it's not true," Parton explains.
"Judy and I have been best friends for 64 years, since we were little kids. Our parents knew each other, we grew up together, we were like sisters, became best friends.
"She was very quiet, I was very outgoing. So we made perfect friends. We went all through school together.
"She went to the army when we graduated because she needed the insurance and she needed to help her family and I was trying to make it. As soon as she got out, she came to Nashville and we've been together ever since."
Parton has had every aspect of her larger-than-life appearance and quirky life picked over since her extraordinary rise to fame, but it is obvious that gossip about her loved ones crosses the line.
She says: "People love to talk - but sometimes that's your best publicity. I don't care what they say as long as they don't hurt other people I love."
Parton is now a gay icon ("I love that," she shrieks in her southern twang) who, if she had been born a boy, would have "been a drag queen because I love all the flamboyant stuff".
But she does raise questions about the recent move among pop stars - including her own goddaughter Miley Cyrus, 26 - to define themselves as gender fluid, pansexual or bisexual.
She tells in the new episode of The Dan Wootton Interview podcast: "For me, I'm still an old timer. Sometimes I think it's just become kind of fashionable to speak out like that. I think some of them even say more than who they really are.
"I think they just want to be part of that whole movement to make people think that they're so free and all that. But I don't really know how they feel inside. I know how I feel inside." She adds: "Miley, she does a lot of stuff for effect, and I think a lot of them do."
For Parton, faith and tradition still guide how she lives her life - and marriage "to the same man" means a lot, even though they are believed to have had an open and free relationship in the past.
"He's a good man. It is a true love story and he's my best buddy - he's crazy, he's funny," she says. So I think laughter has been a big part of our relationship. We both have a lot of fun.
"And we're not in the same business - he doesn't care about that. He's pretty much a homebody, loves staying around home. We live out on a farm. He likes to mow the fields and work on his tractors."
A hysterectomy when Parton was 36 took away the couple's chance to start a family of their own, something she believes "wasn't meant to be". Would her stratospheric career have been as successful if she'd had children?
"Chances are, not," she admits. "I look at everything like it happened the way that it was supposed to. I'm pretty sure if I'd had kids I would not have done as much. I always think, 'Well, maybe God didn't mean for me to have children, so everybody's children could be mine.'"
Besides, she still has plenty of nieces, nephews and godchildren in her life, without any of the pressure.
She admits: "My husband feels the same way. Now that we are older, we're almost kind of glad that we don't have a bunch of grandkids driving us crazy that we have to babysit if we don't want to."
This article originally appeared on The Sun and has been republished with permission.