celebrity

#FreeBritney explained: Britney Spears is 38, and she can't spend her own money without permission.

Britney Spears is a mother of two sons. But for 12 years, she has been unable to make personal and financial decisions. Her father holds the role – by law – of her conservator, essentially a legal guardian. 

The 38-year-old has been subject to a court-ordered conservatorship since 2008.

At the time, it was the mega-star meltdown the world will never forget: the world's most famous pop-star was on a decline characterised by erratic behaviour. 

Britney Spears during a performance in 2007. Image: Getty. 

In one particularly infamous moment, Spears shaved her own head in full view of paparazzi. She later bashed a photographer's car with a green umbrella.  

A year later, in January 2008, a wild-eyed Britney was photographed being wheeled into an ambulance from her apartment after suffering a psychiatric breakdown that lasted 72 hours.

Her public unravelling in 2007 and 2008 was as shocking as it was distressing; as unwatchable as it was... watchable. It was also the catalyst for her conservatorship. 

A conservatorship is designed for those incapable of making rational decisions, such as those with mental disabilities and people with dementia. 

The arrangement asserts that her estate, plus financial and personal assets, are controlled by her father, Jamie Spears, and a lawyer (who was Andrew Wallet, before he quit in 2019, leaving her father with sole legal control).

A 2016 article by The New York Times detailed the extreme control her conservator holds: "Her most mundane purchases, from a drink at Starbucks to a song on iTunes, are tracked in court documents as part of the plan to safeguard the great fortune she has earned but does not ultimately control."

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But unlike most people who are put under the constraints of a conservatorship, Spears has managed to continue her highly successful career. 

Since 2008, she has released three albums, been a judge on X-Factor and done several live shows, particularly in Las Vegas. According to Business Insider, her net worth in 2019 stood at $US59 million. Whilst it is largely speculated that the conservatorship was the saviour of her career, others condemned the tight control her father legally holds over her.

Watch: Britney Spears's famous performance of ‘I’m A Slave 4 U’ at the 2001 Video Music Awards. Post continues below. 


Video via MTV

Britney Spears has only once spoken publicly about her feelings towards her lack of freedom. In 2008, Spears told MTV she was not a fan of the conservatorship. "It's too in control," she told the publication.

"If I wasn't under the restraints I'm under, I'd feel so liberated," she said. "There's no excitement, there's no passion... 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."

Now, speculation is mounting that Spears' lack of control over her finances and personal life is leading to another mental health breakdown, as the "Free Britney" movement re-enters the spotlight.

Considering their concern, Britney Spears sent out a message to her 25 million Instagram followers in July.

"This is Me being happy ….. this is Me being authentic and as real as it gets !!!!! I want to inspire people to do the same and just be themselves without pleasing others ….. that’s the key to happiness  !!!!!!" Britney Spears wrote on Instagram over the weekend. 

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So, what is the ‘Free Britney’ campaign? 

In 2009, fan site Breathe Heavy began an unofficial campaign, Free Britney. The site condemned the conservatorship, before the owner was contacted by Britney’s father who furiously asked them to stop.

A decade on, the movement was revived. In April 2019, a playful podcast called "Britney’s Gram" - devoted to analysing the singer’s Instagram in a light-hearted fashion - released audio from an anonymous paralegal who was involved in Spears’ conservatorship. 

The paralegal said Spears had stopped taking her medication in January 2019, and had since been checked into a mental health facility. The podcast's hosts - comedians Tess Barker and Barbara Gray - used the anonymous tip-off to theorise why Spears had been noticeably absent from social media at the time. 

The “Free Britney” movement took off, even attracting high profile names including Miley Cyrus. 

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Spears left the mental health facility in April 2019.

What has Britney Spears' family said?

Jamie Spears has seemingly had enough of the speculation, calling the 'Free Britney' movement "a joke". 

In a recent interview with Page SixJamie said: "All these conspiracy theorists don’t know anything. The world don’t have a clue.

"It’s up to the court of California to decide what’s best for my daughter. It’s no one else’s business."

When asked about the rumours he had allegedly taken money from Britney's estate, Jamie was definite: "I have to report every nickel and dime spent to the court every year. How the hell would I steal something?"

He added, "I love my daughter. I love all my kids. But this is our business. It's private."

Britney Spears' family in 2003. From left to right: Jamie Spears, Bryan Spears, Jamie-Lynn Spears, Britney Spears and Lynne Spears. Image: Getty.

Jamie's interview comes after Britney's brother, Bryan Spears, also spoke of the conservatorship on the As Not Seen On TV podcast. 

"She's always wanted to get out of it," Bryan said in late July. 

"It's very frustrating to have. Whether someone's coming in peace to help or coming in with an attitude, having someone constantly tell you to do something has got to be frustrating.

"She's been in this thing for quite some time now. Obviously there was a need for it at the beginning that I assume everyone knows the issues that were going on, and now they've made some changes and all we can kinda do is hope for the best."

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Britney Spears's relationship with her father.

The relationship between Britney Spears and her father Jamie Spears is a notoriously complex one. 

In September 2019, Kevin Federline, Britney's ex-husband and the father of her two sons, filed a police report accusing Jamie of physically assaulting their then-13-year-old son, Sean Preston. 

Following the report, he temporarily stood down as his daughter's conservator. 

However, the charges were dropped the same month, with the police claiming they did not have sufficient proof of a criminal offence. 

According to People, Britney and Jamie Spears stopped speaking after the incident, despite the charges being dismissed. 

"Britney is still upset about it," a source told the publication, who added that the singer couldn't "believe that her dad would jeopardise her relationship with her boys."

Now, due to the coronavirus pandemic, her conservatorship has been extended until August, with her 'care-manager' Jodi Montgomery serving as her temporary conservator in place of her father. 

How is Britney Spears now?

From an outsiders perspective, it's hard to tell. But recently, Spears’ social media activity has raised some eyebrows. 

In July, a TikTok video of Spears walking in and out of frame, posing in a crop top and low-rise shorts, went viral. Spears claimed the video was to show off her new flowers, though they were only viewable for a few seconds.

The conversation turned from amusement to concern. People speculated that her yellow top was a signifier of distress for Spears. 

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In her video prior, a fan commented: “if you need help wear yellow in your next video.” Sure enough, Britney did just that - although it is unclear if this is a mere coincidence or not. 

In the caption of the now-viral video, Britney wrote: “HOLY HOLY CRAP !!!!!! My florist surprised me today by making the flower arrangement all different colors  ….. I was so excited I threw on my favorite yellow shirt and just had to SHARE.”

The comments section is awash with fans posting their concern for the singer, asking her if she is safe in her own house, and posting the hashtag #FreeBritney. 

Even Modern Family actress Sarah Hyland commented on one of her recent Instagram posts: "You ok Britney?"

"We love you and its not that we don't like your posts it's that we can tell you're being manipulated and controlled," another person wrote. 

There is even a change.org petition that has amassed over 100,000 signatures.

But as fans continue to express their concern and petition for the government to help, they're also faced with a conundrum: Britney insists she is happy.


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