IF you thought you had to fly to Nashville for a bona fide Dolly Parton experience, look no further than Theatre Royal Wakefield when Queen of Country tribute act Andrea Pattinson rolls into town next month.
While Sunderland is a far cry from the Great Smoky Mountains, the 41-year-old musician has the superfan’s dream job: dedicating herself to a life as Dolly’s doppelganger.
The Geordie singer swaps not only hairstyles, costumes and make-up for her stage show – The Dolly Parton Story – but also her strong north-eastern accent for a southern American twang.
She said: “I could make it easy, but that’s not for me. I want to do Dolly in the 80s and the 90s, she’s had lots of looks and that’s half the fun.
“I do the show in full character and it’s a constant challenge. I spent a day talking to everyone with a southern American accent and everyone thought I had lost my mind.”
The former wedding singer started impersonating Dolly three years ago when punters commented her voice was similar to that of her hero.
Taking the idea on board, she decided to combine her two passions – singing and country music – to pay tribute to her idol.
“I keep saying, ‘I wish I thought of this before’,” said Andrea, “I love it. I want to wear the wigs all the time.
“But it was because people kept saying I reminded them of Dolly that I put the show together and I’ve never looked back – not that I can compare myself to her.
“I’m over the moon I keep getting invited back to places, it’s a dream come true.”
Andrea’s show features all the big hits including the likes of 9 to 5 and Jolene, as well as lesser-known material from her early days and even a “few surprises”.
But despite years of rehearsal and performances, nothing could prepare Andrea for meeting Dolly face to face.
“I talk about when I met Dolly in the show,” said Andrea. “She was here on a tour and my friend won a meet and greet and I went in with her.
“I completely froze. I was awe-struck, she’s been my idol since I was a little girl. She just looked stunning, really beautiful.
“She was such an inspiration. I think that’s why I lost it. All I could say was ‘my mum used to make my clothes when I was little too’ and she said ‘that’s great honey’.”
Andrea abandoned a career in nursing to study performing arts at 19 – a move which sent her father “crackers”.
As one of six children and as “dirt poor” as Dolly growing up, Andrea said she felt a certain affinity with the country singer and knew she wanted to pursue a career in music.
She said: “I come from a big family like her, there was no money for singing lessons and so I started quite late. But I always knew that’s what I wanted to do. My dad told me I used to sit on the bottom of the stairs and sing until I went to sleep.”
While some may think Andrea’s struck gold with realising a lifelong dream there are still a few items to tick off the wish list, including a second chance to talk to her hero.
She said: “If I could go to America I would love to go Nashville – it’s the home of country music and it’s my first love.
“And if I did meet her again, I’d say ‘I’m a lunatic who impersonates you’.”
The Dolly Parton Story will be at Theatre Royal Wakefield on Saturday February 25. Call the box office on 01924 211311 for information.