Britney Spears’ great escape… from her own father: Ever since her public meltdown, the Princess of Pop has – her fans claim – been a virtual hostage to the men controlling her every step… but now she is hitting back
From saucy school uniform to midriff-baring outfits, Britney Spears is used to sending her fans into a frenzy.
But yesterday the pop star showed fans the ‘real her’, sharing images of herself in a check shirt, rolled-up jeans, sandals and glasses as she attempted to change a light bulb.
However, it was her cryptic comments that attracted most interest. She wrote: ‘I wanted to show you what I really look like… sometimes it’s nice to not try so hard and pull down your walls! It takes a lot of strength’.
Her post fuelled the #FreeBritney campaign by fans who believe the singer, 38, was forced into a conservatorship that put her father in control of her affairs in 2008 after she started behaving erratically.
SIAN BOYLE reports on the legal battle that is tearing the Spears family apart.
The pop star recently showed fans the ‘real her’, sharing images of herself in a check shirt, rolled-up jeans, sandals and glasses as she attempted to change a light bulb
High summer in downtown Los Angeles and, in the blistering 35C heat outside the Stanley Mosk Courthouse, a ‘freedom’ protest was taking place. Many had travelled long distances to take part, including a bartender who had made the 2,700-mile trip from Philadelphia.
Armed with placards and pink megaphones, they chanted slogans as drivers honked their support for a very special ‘prisoner’ — who also happens to be one of the most famous women on the planet.
The protesters were members of the #FreeBritney movement, loyal fans of singer Britney Spears who believe she is trapped against her will in a draconian legal guardianship overseen by her father.
And after more than a decade, it seems Britney, too, is set on breaking free.
But what is the truth about the Princess of Pop and the bitter family dispute that has led to claim and counter-claim over her fortune?
Now 38, Britney Spears was the all-American blonde teen who combined a girl-next-door appeal with burgeoning sexuality.
Little girls adored her: they wanted to be Britney. Young men lusted after her. Parents appreciated the catchy tunes, ignored the occasionally inappropriate lyrics and were reassured by her wholesome origins, as an 11-year-old cast member of a Disney TV show.
From saucy school uniform to midriff-baring outfits, Britney Spears is used to sending her fans into a frenzy (pictured performing at the 2001 Video Music Awards)
Britney attacked a paparazzo’s car with an umbrella in 2007 (pictured) which was later auctioned off with a starting price of $100,000
But all too soon after her 1998 debut single, Baby One More Time, Britney’s personal life dramatically eclipsed her music.
Under a relentless flurry of headlines, she was stalked and provoked by the paparazzi that had once idolised her. In 2007 came the infamous ‘Britney moment’ — when she had her head shaved in front of frenzied photographers. Then she attacked a paparazzo’s car with an umbrella — which was later auctioned off with a starting price of $100,000.
But the lowest point came in January 2008 when, with TV helicopters swarming overhead, the troubled star, then 26, was wheeled out of her Los Angeles home strapped to a stretcher.
The scene followed a three-hour stand-off with police, during which she had locked herself in the bathroom under the influence of an ‘unknown substance’ with her one-year-old son Jayden, refusing to hand him over to her ex-husband, Kevin Federline.
The night ended with Britney admitted to a psychiatric ward — and the loss of custody of her two sons to Federline, a former dancer whom she had married in 2004.
To save her career, her finances and indeed her life, Britney’s father, Jamie Spears, was made her legal guardian in what was known as an emergency ‘temporary conservatorship’.
But that was 12 years ago. And Britney remains within the stranglehold of that ‘temporary’ arrangement. She sees her sons, Sean Preston and Jayden, now 14 and 13 respectively, 30 per cent of the time, with Federline having the greater access.
Fans believe the singer, 38, was forced into a conservatorship that put her father Jamie (pictured together) in control of her affairs in 2008
With an estimated fortune of £45million, Britney is reportedly unable to drive, receive visitors or make financial decisions without the approval of the conservators, who include her father and, until last year, the lawyer he appointed, Andrew Wallet.
Britney receives an undisclosed weekly allowance, and everything she buys — from a cup of coffee to a packet of chewing gum — is recorded in court documents.
But now it seems that Britney has had enough. Some critics of the arrangement speculate that it serves not just as protection for her, but as a mealticket for those who surround her.
And in August, after a decade of closed-court hearings which maintained the status quo, Britney went public with her fight. She told the courts that she ‘is strongly opposed’ to her father’s sole oversight of her finances and his role in her life decisions.
As a result, the online #FreeBritney ‘movement’ of fans, who feel they need to ‘save’ her, has grown rapidly.
To date, more than half a million people have signed three petitions urging the U.S. Congress to investigate the singer’s civil liberties ‘so that Britney can hire her own lawyer and live a normal life’.
In August, the singer Cher waded in, referring to Britney as a ‘golden goose’, tweeting: ‘Does anyone who makes [money] off her being sick want her well?’
And earlier this year she had tweeted: ‘Why is a woman being worked if it’s known by her conservator that she’s not well enough to care for herself?’
The last time Britney spoke of her situation was in November 2008 — ten months after the conservatorship had been imposed. She said then: ‘Even when you go to jail, you know there’s the time when you’re going to get out. But in this situation, it’s never-ending.’
In the U.S., conservatorships are reserved for those deemed so mentally or physically incapacitated that they cannot fend for themselves. There are two types: that of ‘the person’ and that of ‘the estate’. Britney is subjected to both.
Yet in stark contrast to frail dementia sufferers and vegetative patients who are typically protected by such arrangements, the singer has worked constantly.
Since her 2008 meltdown, she’s released four studio albums and held down two multi-year ‘Vegas residencies’ — when an artist is contracted to perform a series of scheduled shows.
For her Piece Of Me residency, between 2013 and 2017, Britney generated a total revenue of £103million. She has also enjoyed a succession of lucrative merchandise deals. For those protecting her, this has been fortuitous.
According to the New York Times, her father received 1.5 per cent of the gross revenue from the Vegas residencies.
Last year, he received a salary of £100,000 from overseeing his daughter’s life. Andrew Wallet, Jamie’s co-conservator, was appointed in 2008 and earned £334,000 in 2018.
Meanwhile, Britney’s lawyers and advisers collectively earned £940,000 last year. However, it wasn’t until a series of events in 2018 that the public started to take interest — and the #FreeBritney movement was born.
As the singer was gearing up for her third Las Vegas residency, Dominion, her father suffered a near-fatal rupture of his colon.
On January 4, 2019, Britney announced the cancellation of the residency, citing her father’s illness. Over the next three months, her Instagram account — the only insight her fans had into her life — fell silent. This prompted an investigative journalist — who was a co-host of a podcast known as ‘Britney’s Gram’, documenting her Instagram posts — to start digging.
In April 2019, the podcasters received an anonymous call from a paralegal claiming to have worked for an attorney involved with Britney’s conservatorship. He said her treatment was ‘disturbing’.
Britney had refused to take her medication, he alleged, and ‘[her father] told her: “Either you take it or the show’s off”.
‘She has been in the mental facility since mid-January,’ the caller added.
‘There is no end in sight for this stay. She did not want to go. I’m just a paralegal, I haven’t had any contact with her … but from what I understand this was not a decision she made at all.’
A spokesman for Jamie Spears says it was Britney’s choice to cancel the Vegas residency, and that it was not a punishment for her refusing to take medication.
In March 2019, Andrew Wallet abruptly relinquished his control of the conservatorship, requesting his role to end ‘immediately and without delay’, later stating that Britney would suffer ‘substantial detriment, irreparable harm and immediate danger’ if he didn’t. He received £77,000 ($100,000), which Britney’s lawyer referred to as a ‘golden parachute’.
Weeks later, her team released a statement confirming she’d been in hospital for the past month. Then, in May last year, a letter, allegedly written in the third person by Britney in 2010, was leaked and published by MailOnline.
It read: ‘Britney has been silenced to speak about anything that’s really going on. The people controlling her life have made three million dollars this year. She would love for new [sic] eyes to see her situation, but if she brings it up, she’s constantly threatened that the conservators will take her kids away.’
The #FreeBritney movement gained further momentum on social media during lockdown as the star’s Instagram account became a cause for concern again — this time for its strange overactivity.
Her online posting — almost always from within her £5.5million gated mansion — was increasingly bizarre over the summer. Britney often shares repeats of the same photo, strange videos of outfit ‘try-ons’, exercise or dance routines and recorded messages to her worried fans — including one in which she admitted burning down her gym.
Fans have been left to speculate about her mental state, with some suggesting her strange behaviour is a cry for help. Britney’s plight and the bitter Spears family feud are all a long way away from the family’s roots in the small town of Kentwood, Louisiana.
As the middle child of Jamie, now 68, and Lynne, 65, Britney had a happy Southern Baptist upbringing, singing in the church choir and performing dance recitals from the age of five.
At 12, she was selected for The Mickey Mouse Club, Disney’s prestigious TV variety show which showcased future talent — including her one-time boyfriend, megastar Justin Timberlake. But in 1997, aged 15, she signed with Jive Records.
From the start of her solo career there is evidence of manipulation by others. Early footage on YouTube reveals Britney’s true singing voice, deep and powerful.
It is in marked contrast to the soft, breathy ‘baby’ voice which facilitated the marketing of her as a sexy yet innocent Lolita character.
Indeed, the video accompanying her 1998 debut single, Baby One More Time, did exactly that, portraying her as a coquettish, pigtailed schoolgirl dancing down corridors in a mini-skirt.
Britney’s parents divorced in 2002 and, in her memoir, Lynne describes her ex-husband as an ‘alcoholic who drags a would-be happy Southern family down the road to dysfunction’.
Mother and daughter have endured a strained relationship over the years, but it is surely no coincidence that in the past year Lynne appears to have re-entered Britney’s life. The pair were seen holding hands walking into a courtroom hearing last year.
Britney has made it clear that she recognises the role of the conservatorship overall, declaring in court documents that it ‘rescued her from a collapse, exploitation by predatory individuals and financial ruin’ and that it made her ‘able to regain her position as a world-class entertainer’.
However, on August 17 this year — two days before fans would gather outside the Stanley Mosk courthouse to learn the fate of her conservatorship — Britney sensationally requested the permanent removal of her father’s control of her personal decisions.
Hours later, Jamie Spears filed a petition to reinstate lawyer Andrew Wallet as co-conservator of Britney’s estate. Judge Brenda Penny extended the conservatorship in its current form until February.
Yet events continue to move apace. On September 3, more court papers emerged stating: ‘Britney is strongly opposed to her father continuing as sole conservator.’
Days later, she fiercely rebutted her father’s attempt to reinstate Mr Wallet as co-conservator — and this week she appeared to have won the battle but not yet the war, when Jamie Spears withdrew his request for Mr Wallet to be his co-conservator.
‘[Britney] does not have the capacity to make decisions for herself’, Mr Wallet told the Mail from his hometown of Camarillo.
Defending the conservatorship, he said: ‘I have had people in conservatorship who have got themselves right and it has been terminated.
Other people can be in a conservatorship their whole lives. ‘I’m not saying that’s going to be Britney, but it could.’
In recent weeks, it has been reported that the singer has ‘[no] desire to perform at this time’ and that the conservatorship terms ‘must be changed substantially in order to reflect the major changes in her current lifestyle’.
Britney’s father told the New York Post in August: ‘I love my daughter. All these conspiracy theorists don’t know anything.
‘I have to report every nickel and dime spent to the court every year. How the hell would I steal something? It’s up to the court to decide what’s best for my daughter. It’s no one else’s business.’
Britney’s team have said for the first time that ‘this is a voluntary conservatorship’, that she has no ‘developmental disability’, nor is she a patient at any of California’s hospitals or social services.
Spokesmen for Jamie Spears stressed to the Mail that the ‘voluntary’ aspect of the arrangement means she is free to leave at any time, and simply has to ask her lawyer to file a petition to do so. Yet her lawyer, Sam Ingham, has apparently endorsed the #FreeBritney movement on behalf of his superstar client.
In court papers filed last month, he wrote: ‘Far from being a conspiracy theory… in large part this scrutiny is… reasonable.
‘Britney welcomes and appreciates the support of her many fans. It is not an exaggeration to say that the whole world is watching.’
A year after the head-shaving incident, Britney was asked in an interview why she did it.
‘It was me feeling a bit of rebellion, feeling free,’ she replied. More than a decade on, and once again the world is watching to see whether the ultimate Pop Princess will regain her freedom.
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