She’s so lucky, she’s a star – so why doesn’t Britney Spears have fundamental human rights?
Did you know that one of the most famous and iconic women alive today is forbidden by law to have autonomy over her own money, to drive a car and to make decisions about her own medical care? I didn’t, until I listened to a podcast called Britney’s Gram.
Britney’s Gram is presented by Tess Barker and Babs Gray, two LA-based comedians and Britney fans. The podcast started off in 2017 as a fun analysis of the star’s Instagram account, which was one of the most genuine celebrity social media accounts out there. Britney’s posts provided a fascinating insight into her world however what Barker and Gray could not have anticipated, is that they also revealed the darker side of fame.
Like 83.5%* of the world’s population aged 30 and over, I have been a fan of Britney Jean Spears since she high-kicked her way onto the scene in 1999. I am not a crazy fan – I haven’t even seen her perform live – but I have always enjoyed her music, dancing and general joie de vivre. So, you may be wondering why I felt compelled to listen to a podcast dedicated entirely to analysing the minutiae of Britney Spears’s Instagram?
I had seen the hashtag #freebritney doing the rounds on the internet and it piqued my interest. If you are concerned that this sounds like a conspiracy theory, I can assure you dear reader, it is not. What the #freebritney movement has revealed though is the shocking truth of conservatorship abuse in the USA.
My impetus for writing this article came when my boyfriend questioned why I was suddenly so “obsessed” with Britney. It’s true, I had been reading and watching a lot about her in addition to listening to the podcast. When I explained what I had been learning and why I was so captivated, he was shocked. And it dawned on me, despite the excellent work of the #freebritney stans – the word still needs to be spread.
So, in a nutshell…
Britney has been incredibly famous since the tender age of 17 and has lived her entire adult life under the media spotlight. Even before achieving global superstar status, she was financially supporting her family by appearing on Broadway, Star Search and The New Mickey Mouse Club, (where she was a Mouseketeer alongside Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake and Ryan Gosling). Over the course of her career, Spears is reported to have amassed a $200 million fortune, although it is said that this has dwindled to a “mere” $60 million dollars, thanks to various costs, including legal fees.
Like many people who have grown up in the spotlight, Britney has struggled with her mental health. Even those of us who haven’t grown up with the world’s eyes upon us experience mental health difficulties at times; although fortunately for most of us there aren’t hordes of paparazzi around to document it.
Unlike many celebrities who have had public struggles, for some reason Britney Spears has been defined by hers. It is rare to find an article about the "troubled" star that doesn’t reference her “very public meltdown” back in 2007. Yes, she had a meltdown, but who wouldn’t in her situation?
There are plenty of other stars who have behaved in a much more extreme manner than Britney ever did. She seems to have been eternally condemned for shaving her head, getting a tattoo and whacking a pap’s car with a brolly. Celebrities such as Charlie Sheen, Robert Downey Jr, Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson to name but a few, have had their fair share of public struggles but no one has robbed them of their civil liberties.
The unfairness of the situation is recognised by Spears herself, who in the 2008 MTV documentary For The Record said: “I had that type of nature within me that wanted to rebel out, I never wanted to become one of those prisoner people, I always wanted to feel free and get in my car and go and not let people make me feel like I had to stay in my home.
“I think that was always the part of me that kinda got me in trouble. I had let certain people into my life that were just bad people; I was very guarded at first but I then went to a point where I ended up letting them in because I was lonely or whatever the fact - and I have really paid the consequences for that and big time but I just feel like, you know you do something wrong and you learn from it and you move on, but I am having to pay for it for a really long time.”
Twelve years on and she’s still paying.
A conservatorship, also referred to as a guardianship (and a deputyship in England and Wales), is usually reserved for severely ill or disabled people, those who are in a coma and elderly people with extreme dementia – all of whom could be at risk of financial exploitation. As far as I can tell, Britney falls into none of those categories.
Yes, we have established that she has had some public mental health struggles – but she has been working solidly since she was put in the conservatorship, with her business empire expanding to the point that her ex-husband Kevin Federline went to court to demand more money.
There is a huge disconnect here. Which version of events is true? Is Britney so seriously incapacitated that she cannot be responsible for herself? In which case why has she been working? Or, if that is not the case (as all evidence suggests) and she is able to work and perform, why has she had all of her civil liberties removed?
As Cher put it: “Question…why is a woman being worked if it is known by her conservator that she’s not well enough to care for herself?”
She also Tweeted: “Does anyone who is making $ off her being sick, want her well? Someone who doesn’t want anything from her should look into her Dr and her meds.”
Conservatorships put people in a real catch-22 situation, whereby once they are in the conservatorship, they cannot appoint their own legal representation so therefore cannot get out of the conservatorship (as of October 2020 Britney has been given permission to expand her legal team – a significant shift). It is my understanding, from listening to the podcast, that Britney was put into the conservatorship without her consent or knowledge, and her father was made co-conservator even though he was estranged from his daughter at the time. He also appointed his fellow conservator, attorney Andrew Wallet (who resigned in 2019).
Tess Barker, from Britney’s Gram, wrote in her powerful essay I Got You Crazy – The Men Who Control Britney Spears: “…as Britney laid strapped to a hospital bed due to a series of boundary violations perpetrated against her, Britney was stripped of her rights as an adult American citizen. Wallet became conservator of her finances, Jamie of both her finances and her person.”
It is also worth noting that Jamie Spears, who has had issues with alcohol throughout a lot of his life, mismanaged his family’s finances to the point where they had to declare bankruptcy in 1998. In September 2019, Kevin Federline reported Jamie to the police for allegedly physically assaulting his and Britney’s 13-year old son, Sean Preston. I am no expert, but Jamie Spears does not seem well-qualified for the position of conservator, where he is in total control of Britney’s finances and person, all whilst drawing a salary of over $100K per year.
The idea behind the #freebritney movement is to apply sufficient pressure so that Britney’s case is reviewed, and her civil liberties restored, while at the same time respecting the star’s privacy. If you want to learn more, I highly recommend listening to the Britney’s Gram podcast – and listen from the beginning. It is chilling to be on the journey with Barker and Gray as they begin to realise the full extent of what is happening to their idol. At the same time, it is also incredibly funny and heart-warming. Click here for the link.
I recommend reading Barker’s essay as well – click here.
And finally, as the inimitable Sharon Osbourne put it: “The one thing about Britney that has always broken my heart is that she was working from a very, very young child, she was on Broadway at like ten or something ridiculous and she has worked her entire life. She has kept her entire… managers, father, ex, she keeps everyone, nobody works for her for free…So when there’s a lot of money involved, nothing would surprise me.
“When she shaved her hair off and all of that she should have taken five years off then but she’s back out - they keep putting her back out and back out. You know, it’s time for her to have a life and maybe her dad could find a job.”
Let’s hope that Britney has her rights restored and that the high-profile nature of this case shines a light on the wider issue of conservatorship abuse – as not everyone who is trapped in one of these arrangements has a dedicated army of fans to emancipate them.
*I have of course made this statistic up but I’m 97.4% sure that it’s correct.