It’s Toxic: Britney’s Conservatorship Battle

December 24, 2020

3 min read

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What's going on here?

In yet another failed legal bid to wrestle control of her life from the strict guardianship of her father, Britney Spears’ future remains uncertain. In the thirteen years since her public breakdown, the singer has been a prisoner in her own life. Outraged, the #FreeBritney “fan-group” is storming to her rescue.    

What does this mean?

Britney’s dramatic meltdown in 2007 shone an uncomfortable light on the pressures of celebrity life. The images of Britney’s shaven head and terrified stare unfairly defined her career.

Put under a temporary psychiatric hold for her own safety, Britney was hospitalised for immediate treatment. In 2008, a “conservatorship” was created, which saw her father, Jamie Spears, and Andrew Wallet, attorney, take control of her assets, estate, and business affairs. Although initially temporary, the arrangement soon became permanent. Not only did the case generate vast publicity of Britney’s plight, it also put conservatorships on the map.

A fierce legal battle ensued, but Britney’s army of fans refused to give up. In 2009 the #FreeBritney movement was born. Primarily there for support, fans soon became concerned for her safety. As time went by, their calls for the system to intervene grew louder. Astonishingly, twelve years on, the “once-temporary” arrangement is still in place. Despite stepping down as co-conservator due to illness in 2019, Jamie Spears still holds full control of Britney’s interests. In this rare, battle for freedom, it was unclear just who was being protected.

Then, at Britney’s latest legal outing, came a surprise glimmer of hope. Despite failing in her bid to have her father wholly removed from the arrangement, the Court granted permission for her situation to be reviewed after the pandemic.

After years of complaining about Jamie’s excessive hold over every aspect of Britney’s daily life, the authorities were finally listening. But what initiated this turn around? Perhaps it was the dramatic resignation of co-conservator Wallet in 2019, who claimed there was a risk of “substantial detriment, irreparable harm and immediate danger” to Britney and her estate if the courts did not grant her requests. Or the worldwide publicity of #FreeBritney, credited for making public this previously private, family feud. Either way, this toxic arrangement could not safely continue for much longer.

Many close to the star maintained this controlling treatment was causing Britney, long-term mental harm. “Trapped in an immoral and possibly unlawful” catch-22, downward spiral, it was feared the longer the situation continued the more permanent the damage would be.

What's the big picture effect?

Conservatorships, and their complexities, have been pulled from the shadows. The tragedy is that these arrangements are normally reserved for the old and disabled, not young superstars with their whole lives ahead of them.

Deputyships, the UK’s equivalent, rarely make headlines, but they can be a necessary tool to safeguard those deemed unable to make decisions for themselves. Despite handing control over a person’s life to others, a deputyship’s primary aim is always the protection of the individual involved.

The Mental Capacity Act 2005 enables the Court of Protection to appoint suitable representatives to become deputies. Duty bound; they must work in the protected individual’s best interests. Deputies are supervised by the Office of the Public Guardian whose job it is to safeguard the rights of those protected under the Deputyship Order and to prevent abuse of this power. The granting of the review for Britney means such concerns have been recognised.   

After years of hardship during the conservatorship, Britney’s voice is being heard. More than a decade later, the future looks brighter. Maybe just maybe, Britney will regain her life and her freedom. And be free to enjoy all the basic pleasures, many others take for granted.    

Report written by Denise Atwell

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