By Lauren Edwards
Like most people I enjoy a bit of celebrity gossip. Whether in the more sophisticated form of devouring a biography or having a flick through a glossy magazine whilst at the hairdressers and questioning the airbrush loveliness of celebrities lounging on their immaculate sofas. Or, occasionally, with the kinds of magazines and tabloids that sell themselves with the promise of exclusive content; trashing well-known celebs by comparing how much cellulite they have, how much weight they have put on or presuming the inner workings of their personal relationships.
However, after watching Framing Britney Spears on Sky this week, I was left feeling shocked and guilty for ever picking up a magazine purely to read a sensationalised headline. Spears became uber famous at the tender age of 16 and was launched into the public eye before the days of social media. Her career started off as the girl-next-door pop princess, adored by many, but she quickly became the sexualised Lolita character and was criticised for encouraging bad behaviour.
There was no one like her and suddenly her commodity status became completely acceptable. It was a paparazzi free for all whenever she left the house and a photo of Britney looking rough or drunk or doing something scandalous could make that photographer thousands of pounds.
As she lost custody of her children, after a very public break-up with her boyfriend, she was branded a bad mother and the media speculation intensified. During Framing Britney Spears, my jaw hit the floor when a television clip of the American version of Family Fortunes actually had a round named ‘something Britney Spears has lost’. The answers that the two teams of contestants gave and received points for were ‘her husband’, ‘her hair’ and ‘her mind’.
In 2008, Britney had a very public meltdown. We all watched with horror as she sat in the glass fronted high street hairdressers and shaved off her long dark hair until she was bald, she then moved onto a tattooist as the cameras kept snapping and she looked out, expressionless, her dark brown eyes seemingly hiding her hopelessness. It culminated in Spears attacking a paparazzi’s car with an umbrella as the crowd of photographers laughed and one was later recorded saying “That night was not a good night for her, but it was a good night for us because it was a money shot.”
She was later checked into a psychiatric hospital for a mental health evaluation. Following this, Britney’s estranged Dad Jamie Spears petitioned courts for an emergency conservatorship, citing that his daughter was unable to properly care for herself.
A conservatorship is where a court of law appoints an individual to care for another adult who is deemed unfit to care for themselves or to manage their own finances. It is most common when the ‘conservatee’ is elderly and where the ‘conservator’ will assume responsibility of their estate.
Jamie Spears was given the legal right to take control of Britney’s finances, health, business deals and personal life and has remained in charge for the past 12 years. During this time, Britney completed rehab, released albums, went on numerous tours, and held a residency in Las Vegas. It is alleged that she is not permitted to give any interviews and has struck a very lonely figure on her Instagram, often behaving erratically.
In 2019, Britney’s dedicated army of fans started the movement #Free Britney as concern grew over the singer’s welfare. An anonymous broadcast from a member of her legal team was aired on a fansite’s podcast stating that all was not well in the Spears camp. That the popstar, now aged 39, needed permission to leave her house or spend any of her own money and that she wanted out of the conservatorship and her Dad was not willing to agree.
I found the documentary shocking and sad. It showed a life through a lens which was uncomfortable and way out of line on so many occasions yet appeared to be perfectly acceptable at the time. Throughout her career, Britney’s mental health was never discussed in a sympathetic way and the press intrusion was never criticised. The one scene that summed it up perfectly for me was during a clip of Larry King Live in 2008. A panel of journalists discussed Britney’s latest hospital admission when fellow panellist and filmmaker Michael Moore said: “Why don’t we just leave her alone and let her go on with her life?”