In the spotlight for two decades, Britney Spears is a pop icon for a generation. She has also become a cottage industry, selling more than 33 million albums in the U.S., making $137.7 million (£110 million) on her Vegas residency alone, and throughout her career has had lucrative sponsorships with Pepsi, Elizabeth Arden for a series of fragrances (to date she has released 25), Candie’s, Polaroid, Toyota, and more. And every cent she has earned has been controlled under a conservatorship by her father Jamie Spears and, until March 2019, a lawyer named Andrew Wallet.
This year, a movement to #FreeBritney has gained steam as the entertainer finds herself back in the news for her conservatorship, thanks to her father’s illness, her cancellation of a new Vegas residency due to mental health issues, and court filings by Britney and her mother relating to the conservatorship. So, what exactly is going on with Britney Spears and her conservatorship?
Here’s everything we know.
What’s Going On With Britney Spears?
In January 2019, Britney announced the launch of her new Las Vegas show, Britney: Domination, was cancelled and that she was going on an indefinite work hiatus. She cited health concerns for Jamie, who nearly died after his colon ruptured this past November.
Wallet resigned from his position in her conservatorship in March 2019. His reasons for leaving were not made public, though he did request an increase in his pay in 2018 based on expected revenue of her next Vegas residency. No one has been assigned to replace him, leaving Jamie as sole conservator — and his health scare left the estate in flux during his hospitalisation.
In April, Britney posted an Instagram video addressing her stint in a mental health facility which was originally presented as taking “me time.” Later, after a theory that Spears was being held against her will took hold on the internet thanks to a podcast called Britney’s Gram, Britney told her fans, “I am trying to take a moment for myself, but everything that’s happening is just making it harder for me. Don’t believe everything you read and hear."
Britney and Lynne Spears, her mother, appeared in a Los Angeles court on 10th May. where Lynne requested to be included in “all matters which special notice may be requested.” It was unusual for Britney to appear in court, as she typically doesn’t attend hearings on the status of her health and ongoing conservatorship. Britney made her own request of the court that is still unspecified — the courtroom was sealed from the press and onlookers that day — but it ended with the judge ordering an expert evaluation in the conservatorship. The type of examination is usually ordered “to determine the mental health and competence of a parent in a divorce case,” according to the Associated Press. It was unclear if the examination relates to Britney’s care for her two sons or her parents’ care over herself.
Shortly after those filings, on 22nd May, Jamie filed to extend her conservatorships outside of California to Louisiana, Hawaii, and Florida, according to court documents obtained by TMZ.
Fans have speculated that Britney petitioned for her conservatorship to end, which would make this the first action she has taken in that direction since she last petitioned the court in 2009 and was denied. A source seemingly confirmed that theory to CNN, saying, "Of course she wants it [the conservatorship] to end, because she's not of the right mental state to understand her issues. She has a mental illness and that doesn't mean she needs to be locked up. It puts her somewhere in the middle. She's working on it. It's a struggle on a daily basis."
Britney's conservatorship sued Anthony Elia, who runs the blog Absolutely Britney and is the genesis of the #FreeBritney movement and numerous theories that she is being held against her will in the legal agreement, for defamation in June. The lawsuit claims that Elia has made false accusations about the conservatorship manipulating her Instagram account to "appear more troubled and in need of help than she actually is," the Associated press reported.
Dr. Timothy Benson, the doctor responsible for Brtiney's medical treatment, died suddenly on 24th August 2019, TMZ reported. The judge in Britney's case is reportedly scheduled to receive an extensive report, ahead of a hearing she requested to review her conservatorship, on her well-being that includes Dr. Benson's assessment of her health. It is unclear how his untimely death will affect the court's evaluation of her case or the planned hearing.
The next status hearing on Britney and her conservatorship is scheduled for September and, in June, she was granted a permanent restraining order from Sam Lutfi, her former manager from 2007-2008, after he appears to have become involved in the #FreeBritney movement.
What Is Conservatorship?
Conservatorship, or guardianship, is typically used among the elderly, for people suffering from debilitating diseases such as dementia, and for those who are severely impaired and unable to care for themselves.
Jamie is solely in charge of Britney’s $47 million (£37 million) estate, her personal affairs, and her mental health, according to the New York Times. According to court documents obtained by WaPo, Jamie may “pursue opportunities related to professional commitments and activities including but not limited to performing, recording, videos, tours, TV shows, and other similar activities as long as they are approved by Ms. Spears’s medical team,” and has the authority to revoke power of attorney on her behalf, decide where she lives, and sign her tax forms. Twice-married Spears cannot marry without the permission of the conservatorship. WaPo emphasises how sheltered she is under it, citing a team of people who protect her from “negative influencers and hangers-on” and noting that she doesn’t have an email address.
“The conservatorship is not a jail. It helps Britney make business decisions and manage her life in ways she can’t do on her own right now,” her longtime manager, Larry Rudolph, told WaPo. Rudolph is not involved in the conservatorship.
Unnamed sources close to Britney spoke to CNN about the conservatorship, painting a picture of a star who requires the guidance and structure the conservatorship provides. They denied “reports of discord between Spears and her family” and rebuffed allegations on social media that Britney is restricted in her day-to-day life by the conservatorship. In fact, one source asserted that the conservatorship was Britney’s idea, not her father’s.
What Happened To Put Britney Spears Under Conservatorship?
Britney has been under a court-ordered conservatorship since February 2008 for unspecified mental health issues, following her two hospitalisations under psychiatric hold and multiple trips to rehab. The court also issued a restraining order against her then manager and fiancé, Lutfi. Britney had been estranged from her family, who claimed that she was “drugged and controlled” by Lutfi. He refuted many of the claims in a lawsuit against the Spears family.
Leading up to the conservatorship, Britney exhibited erratic behaviour in public from 2006 to 2008. During that period, an embattled Britney faced home visits by child welfare services after numerous reports and photos of her potentially endangering her sons, was ordered to undergo random drug and alcohol testing as part of her visitation arrangement with her ex-husband, Kevin Federline, and ultimately lost custody and visitation rights to the boys. In the press she was photographed without underwear, shaved her head, had an erratic 2007 MTV VMAs performance that became a watercooler moment, committed a misdemeanour hit-and-run, and assaulted the car of a paparazzo with an umbrella. Things came to a head when Spears was put on a 5150 hold under mental health twice in January of 2008, with one time including a custody stand-off with Federline during which she locked herself in a bathroom with one of her young sons.
The conservatorship, which was issued on February 1, 2008 and made permanent six months later, was temporary at the time but has continued for over a decade. In that time, it protected her during turbulent legal battles, including her divorce and custody hearings with Federline and the lawsuit from Lutfi. It also guided her comeback into public life, with her subsequent albums, position as a judge on The X-Factor, and wildly successful Las Vegas residency.