The Handbook
The Handbook

Britney Spears has been the pop culture backdrop to most of our lives (or for anyone who was born in the 80s and early 90s). She’s had her ups  (a salivary kiss with Madonna at the VMAs) and her downs (a salivary kiss with Madonna at the VMAs). And we’ve been there for all of it.

Now it’s come to light that the blonde girl-next-door that we secretly all love to sing along to, is now being held against her will by her father who has complete control of her estate. And The New York Times has just made a documentary about it. But how did this all happen?

Who is Britney?

Seriously? Come on now. We know that’s not a legit question. But we’re happy to rewind back to the beginning when we saw Britney break onto the scene as a hyper-sexualised school-girl aged just 15 in (Hit Me) “Baby One More Time”… we’re not quite sure if that would be allowed now, but anyway… Since then she’s been dubbed the Princess of Pop and even starred in her own movie “Crossroads”. Remember that? Ahhh the good times.

Before Britney turned 20, she had sold over 37 million albums worldwide. She’s got a Grammy, 13 Guinness World Records, six MTV video music awards, seven Billboard Music Awards, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. 

But what her fans wanted to know, is that with all this hard work for 24 years, why the hell is her estate still being controlled by her father?

Britney and her dad Jamie

What her fans wanted to know, is that with all this hard work for 24 years, why the hell is her estate still being controlled by her father?

When did her dad step in?

Around the time of the head-shaving incident (there were more than 70 paparazzi present for this apparently), Britney was suffering from mental health problems. Her kids were living with her ex Kevin Federline, and she was meant to be in rehab in Antigua.

Up until this point, her whole life and career had been micromanaged by music execs, down to things like her appearance and (apparently) which knickers she wore.

So in 2008, at the age of 26, when was involuntarily admitted to a hospital’s psychiatric ward, she entered into a court-sanctioned conservatorship controlled by her father Jamie Spears. This gave him control over her fortune and other aspects of her life.

Apparently, at the time, a lawyer has alleged that Britney wanted to accept the guardianship as long as her father was not the appointed conservator. However, she is now 39, and he’s still in charge.

A growing number of her fans started speaking up on her behalf, raising questions about her civil liberties. There has been particular focus from them on how the pop star could simultaneously perform sold-out shows for her Las Vegas residency and make millions, while also be considered incapable of making decisions about her finances and health.

Didn’t she challenge her dad in court recently?

In line with the fans’ protests, at the end of last year Britney requested to remove her father from her conservatorship. But it was denied by the judge, who instead trusted the Bessemer Trust (an independent law office) as a co-conservator alongside Jamie.

This was despite Britney’s lawyer saying: “My client has informed me that she is afraid of her father”, and that “she will not perform again if her father is in charge of her career”.

Britney's lawyer said: “My client has informed me that she is afraid of her father", and that "she will not perform again if her father is in charge of her career”.

Is that when The New York Times released a documentary?

The new film, “Framing Britney Spears”, which aired last Friday in the US, explores the fan furore around freeing Britney from the conservatorship, but it also looks at how the media and management handled Britney’s life and career in a pretty invasive way.

Britney doesn’t appear in the documentary, with the film’s producers stating that they were unsure whether their request even reached her. And her family declined to participate.

What does Britney say about all this?

Mostly, nothing. Her Instagram is mainly filled with somewhat bizarre selfies, her dancing in her living room, and a video of her poking a ball of kinetic sand (tbf, it does look super relaxing).

Although everyone is currently reading into a recent post she dropped on Tuesday talking about an old performance of Toxic. She spoke about how she is “taking the time to learn and be a normal person” and enjoy “the basics of every day life!!!!” (Yes, there are lot of exclamation marks, we find that difficult to deal with too). But, most importantly, she says: “Remember, no matter what we think we know about a person’s life it is nothing compared to the actual person living behind the lens!!!!”

However, she did reference the #FreeBritney movement in court directly through her lawyer who said she was “trying to regain some measure of personal autonomy” and that she “welcomes and appreciates the informed support of her many fans”.

So what’s next for Britney?

Well, since the release of the documentary, things have started to gain a bit of momentum. The celebs are getting behind her, tweeting #freebritney where they can – Sarah Jessica Parker and Bette Midler among them.

And Britney’s lawyer is back in court today in Los Angeles to continue her legal fight. It’s unlikely that her dad will be removed, but instead, there will be a discussion around what role the co-conservators will play in overseeing her estate.

How can I watch the documentary and, more importantly, how can I #FreeBritney?

Framing Britney Spears is currently only available on Hulu. So those of us in the UK will have to try it on there somehow, with some sneaky VPN trickery or wait until it hits these shores (there’s no actual date for this yet, although some say Spring…).

You can also keep an eye out for a Britney podcast by two of the contributors of the NYT documentary, Babs Gray and Tess Barker. It will provide more info into Britney’s career, legal struggle, and the media obsession around her. They’re also holding a virtual rally you can take part in when the court case resumes today.

We’re all with you Britney.


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