Dolly Parton’s gift could put a song in all our hearts | Rebecca Nicholson

The star’s $1m donation helped to fund the research that has come up with a promising coronavirus vaccine

It was the week that Dolly Parton helped out the world with a vaccine for Covid-19, because of course it was. There could be no finer coda to this gruesome year than for it to be revealed that Parton had partly funded the research that led to the Moderna vaccine, currently topping the charts at 94.5% efficacy.

In April, Parton donated $1m (£750,000) to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee. She discovered that this had gone towards funding the vaccine when the name of her foundation, the Dolly Parton Covid-19 Research Fund, surely the jolliest name for a scientific research body ever, appeared on the report.

I have recommended this more times than I can remember, but for an in-depth insight to how Parton manages to appeal across almost every divide, the 2019 podcast Dolly Parton’s America is fascinating and vital. (In a vaccine/podcast crossover, the presenter is Jad Abumrad, whose father, Dr Naji Abumrad, is professor of surgery at Vanderbilt and a friend of Parton’s, who inspired her to donate the $1m.)

It paints a portrait of a woman who is canny and kind, politically adept and preternaturally smart, and it goes a long way towards explaining why she is so loved by so many people, from all walks of life, in many countries. I find myself suspicious of those who claim not to like Parton or her music and suspect it is largely a contrary position to take for the sake of it, like not having a television or insisting that you enjoy the taste of mustard.

“This could be your most significant contribution to the world yet,” Alex Jones told Parton on The One Show when discussing the vaccine news, which was a bold claim to make about the woman who wrote Jolene and I Will Always Love You in one sitting.

“I’m sure many millions of dollars by many people went into that,” Parton pointed out, modestly, because she is Dolly Parton. Of course, everyone knows that Parton did not singlehandedly usher in the beginnings of the end of the pandemic, though frankly, if that were the news, I doubt it would be a massive surprise. But it feels somehow fitting and proper that Parton’s philanthropy, which has had a special focus on educating children from poorer backgrounds, has come through once again, this time when it was most needed, by the whole world.

She plays an angel in her forthcoming festive film, Christmas on the Square, and who could take that away from her?

Ant and Dec: an unerring ability to keep us laughing

Ant and Dec
Ant and Dec: ‘Their banter has brightened up my week.’ Photograph: ITV/PA

There are more belly laughs to be had in five minutes of I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! than in most edgy new sitcoms.

It’s not that contestants facing their phobias is inherently funny, though Radio 1’s Jordan North squealing about his “happy place” while trapped underground in a box did have its own charms. (Not for the snakes in there with him: the RSPCA has again criticised the show’s use of live animals.) It’s more that after 18 years, Ant and Dec continue to be the funniest hosts on TV. No wonder they win every annual presenting award going. Their banter has brightened up my week.

In ordinary times, I find it hard to stick with shows such as I’m a Celebrity or Strictly Come Dancing because they require so much time and attention. It’s a commitment. But with little else to do in the evenings, at least little else that would require leaving the house, the entertainment they provide has been oddly comforting and communal, in a way that I did not anticipate it would be. I can join in with family texts, say, about who’s done what on which trial for the first time in years.

The Great British Bake Off ends this week, but with that, Strictly and I’m a Celebrity, it feels as if the titans of UK light entertainment have really rolled up their sleeves and mucked in when it comes to doing their bit for the national mood.

The opening episode of I’m a Celebrity was the most watched non-news programme of the year, with 12 million viewers tuning in at its peak. I am not at all surprised.

Nigella Lawson: she makes even toast taste better

Nigella Lawson
Nigella Lawson: using her loaf. Photograph: Anne-Marie Jackson/Toronto Star/Getty Images

In one brief segment on her new cooking show, Nigella’s Cook, Eat, Repeat, Nigella Lawson changed my relationship with toast. That relationship is longstanding and devoted – I honestly think my death row meal would be a thick slice of hot buttery toast – but this second lockdown has taken it to the next level and I can only describe November as “carby”. (I read one “how to stay healthy this winter” article that advised steering clear of bread and pasta, which seemed, to my gluten-tolerant appetite, to be a straight path to misery.)

Last Monday, Nigella showed us how she makes toast. (To be fair, “call this cooking?” naysayers, she did go on to make the bread.) She butters it once. She leaves it. Then she butters it again. Unsalted butter. Sea salt sprinkled on at the end. She called it a “platonic ideal of toast”. I felt oddly unplatonic towards it.

Her televised method proved controversial, but the next morning I found myself looking at my own toast, buttered only once, with salted, thinking: should I? Could I? Reader, I did.

It is a best-of-both-worlds slice of toast, hot and cold, to quote the great Katy Perry, and the double butter is here to stay.

• Rebecca Nicholson is an Observer columnist

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Rebecca Nicholson

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