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America’s apolitical sweetheart

When America’s most successful crime writer, James Patterson, paired up to write a book with Dolly Parton, he was apparently surprised the singer was so hands-on. He shouldn’t have been, says Laura Craik in the Evening Standard. Parton has always been business savvy. Born one of 12 children, she grew up “dirt poor” in the mountains in Tennessee and left for Nashville the day after she graduated from high school. After 10 years of gigging and grafting, Parton had her first hit with Jolene in 1974. Now, aged 76, she’s written around 3,000 songs, won 11 Grammys and sold more than 100 million records. And unlike other artists, Parton is meticulous about publishing rights and profits. (She refused to let Elvis cover I Will Always Love You because his manager asked for half the rights.) Her music catalogue is worth $150m and she takes in up to $8m in royalties a year.

But the real secret to her success is that she’s stayed apolitical. Parton says she would “rather pass a kidney stone” than talk about politics. She never condemned Donald Trump, and has only once timidly admitted to being a feminist, with the caveat that she didn’t want to “get out and carry signs” about it. At Monday’s Academy of Country Music awards, she made a rare exception and dedicated the show to the people of Ukraine. “Only war, it seems, can ever-so-slightly sway Parton.” Her neutral “Dollitics” mean that, after all these years, Parton still has mass appeal. She’s a gay icon as well as a poster girl for church-going conservatives; she’s a multi-millionaire with leagues of working-class fans. In a place as divided as America, that’s no small feat.