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Michael Dalton & Dolly Diamond: More than just a cabaret act

Michael Dalton Dolly Diamond

Michael Dalton was literally moving at a snail’s pace that evening. Cocktail in hand, he inched towards the nearest empty table in Cabinet Bar and carefully sat down on the wooden chair, breathing a small sigh of relief.

“I’ve got to learn not to wear such high heels,” he said, rubbing his lower back. “I reckon those were about eight inches. Ridiculous! And I wasn’t even walking for very long or very far. It was for a photoshoot. I stood up and there went my back. But that’s showbiz!”

That’s an understatement when your alter ego is Dolly Diamond, one of Melbourne’s most vivacious and well-known comedy cabaret performers.

Off stage, Dolly has lent her face and name to major Australian public awareness campaigns and received the Artist of the Year Award at Melbourne’s GLOBE Community Awards 2014.

Michael, who created Dolly in London in 2002 and introduced her to Australia in 2009, now acts as her agent and manager.

This is our second interview at the Parisian-inspired Cabinet Bar & Balcony, a favourite of Michael’s for three important reasons. The first is the staff’s strong support for Dolly. The second is because it used to host Dolly’s earlier performances.

“And the third reason is because Dolly has a drink named after her here – the Trolley Dolly. It has Campari in it, and is really nice. A little bitter but I don’t mind. I’m a little bitter myself!”


Michael Dalton, Performer and Manager of Dolly Diamond

What is your own professional life like outside of managing Dolly?

I’m an emcee, a presenter on JoyFM and I do many other different gigs but my main focus is Dolly. Once I unleashed that woman, there was no looking back. Dolly has more of a name than I do and I'm ok with that really.


How did you choose Dolly’s name?

I grew up listening to Dolly Parton. I'm still a huge fan. I'd also performed very briefly in London as cabaret lounge singer, Mikey Diamond. So I married the two.


You’ve shuttled between London and Melbourne since you moved here as a child. Tell us about that.

We moved to Melbourne when I was 12, and lived in Ringwood. I went to Ringwood High School, which was a great school with a wonderful music program. A lot of my teachers now come to my gigs and are so supportive. I moved back to London for a job opportunity when I was 21 and only returned to Melbourne eight years ago.


What brought you back here?

Love! And I also realised that as much as I loved London and being English, I belong in Melbourne.


Where has that sense of belonging found its roots?

You have to love where you live. I was enjoying London but I didn’t love it as much as I loved what Melbourne had to offer. I’m one of the few drag cabaret acts that sing live and I enjoy being different in Melbourne. I’m a comedian and a performer. It’s not about just dressing up as a woman. I try to make Dolly as real as possible.

How has Melbourne given you the opportunities that weren’t available to you in London?

There are a lot of cabaret, comedy and festivals in Melbourne. And all of them are very accessible. I don’t know whether it’s the same in London because I didn’t look for them.

I think I got into a bit of a rut in London. I was getting loads of gigs that were giving me good money but I had my blinkers on because it was easier to just keep doing what I was doing. When I arrived in Melbourne I didn’t let that happen.

I worked hard and tried different things to make sure I would do well here. Melbourne helped me get more motivated. And once you start getting a little success, it generally inspires you to do more to get more.


What would you like Melburnians to know about attending live performances?

You’re not there to catch up with your mates. You do that before or after the show. If you insist on having a natter while the show is going on, then you’ll cop it. If everyone there has bought a ticket, then I have the right to ask you to listen to what I have to say.

I don’t mind a little banter back and forth. It’s not about me being in ultimate control. We can all enjoy it together but you have to play the game. I’m not someone who has to have the last word either. If you win with a hilarious line, then brilliant!


What’s the next show that you’re managing for Dolly?

Dolly Di*mond's Bl*nkety Bl*nks that will run from 20-28 January. I reckon it’ll do well. It’s a great idea, everyone loves the game show and I’ve managed to get some amazing guests. But that will not stop me from going all out to promote it on social media.

There’s a lot of competition, and I want an audience every night. I’ve done gigs in front of 11 people and it ain’t nice. It doesn’t necessarily have to be sold out every night but you want it to be busy. No one wants to be unpopular.


Dolly Diamond, Comedy cabaret performer and Artistic Director of Melbourne Cabaret Festival 2017

Have you changed much since you started performing 15 years ago?

Oh, you get better over the years! Maybe I was more vicious when I began. Now I like to entertain and make people laugh. I don’t mind them squirming a little but it’s not my aim to make them feel uncomfortable to the point they don’t want to be there.


How were you discovered?

I don’t know if I was discovered. I just kept going at what I was doing and eventually, if you get enough people who like what you do, you’ll get more work and like cream, you’ll rise to the top. Or you won’t.


What fulfils you about your work?

I love going to work, hearing the laughter and getting applause at the end of my shift. If I’m not working, I’m miserable. But it’s also a business where you have to be constantly driven or you will never get anywhere.


The entertainment industry is a fickle one. What is the key to longevity as a performer?

Know what works and do it well. There are many acts that have been around for over two decades and yet, I still laugh when I watch them. There are hundreds of acts that I would love to watch over and over again. What they do may not be that new but it’s how they do it.

What are you bringing to the Melbourne Cabaret Festival this year in your role as artistic director?

Firstly, I was thrilled to be asked! I’ve been going every year so it’s an honour to be able to put my stamp on it. I’ll be bringing my eye to it and my style of crafting a gig. And I’ll also be working on trying to get more sponsors. It’s all good that it does well this year but it has to be on going. And that’s my job too.


Tell us something about fascinating about cabaret.

Cabaret, depending on what you watch, can reflect areas of your own life or completely the opposite. There are acts that will talk about subjects that you’ve never dreamed of but it is nice to get a snapshot of someone else’s life.


Do you have any favourite Melburnian acts?

I love Kate Ceberano and Rhonda Burchmore. I admire the women who have been going on for a while without having to reinvent themselves because they keep on doing what they do well.


Like yourself.

I would like to think that is the case. I’m not dead yet and I’d like to keep going on strong for as long as I can.


In A Snap:

Favourite Aussie phrase: “No worries.” Which is a lie because we use it even if we are worried or annoyed.

Favourite performance venue: Chapel Off Chapel. I began there when I came back to Melbourne and they treat me really well.

Best fashion tip: No matter what you’re wearing, always wear the right underwear

Favourite Melbourne festival: The Melbourne Cabaret Festival and Midsumma


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