At one point, Pop Princess Britney Spears was the most beloved celebrity on the planet. But as we all know, fame has a dark side. Today, the pop icon has no control over her life and is forced instead to answer to her father, Jamie. But while she needs her father’s permission for every financial decision she makes, there’s one thing that he allows her to do—and that’s work.
As Britney’s conservatorship and her multiple breakdowns dominate the headlines, we’re taking a look at what led her to this point. From her parents’ questionable actions and her siblings’ fame (or lack of), to what really happened before that 2007 VMA performance and the bad people who have seemed to have leeched off of her, this is the full Britney Spears story.
These days, Britney may not care much what we think of her, but it was all she cared about when she was younger. It started when her mother, Lynne, encouraged Britney to enter the beauty pageant circuit when she was just a little girl. Lynne was the daughter of a strict Baptist milkman and a British war bride who had big dreams of escaping the small-town life.
Lynne was raised in Kentwood, Louisiana, along with Britney’s dad, Jamie—a young guy who popped wheelies on his motorcycle and divorced his first wife just two weeks before he married Lynne. Like the other 2,200 people in Kentwood, Britney’s parents had a hard time making ends meet.
Other than a mineral water bottling plant, very few businesses were opening their doors. Lynne worked as a second-grade teacher at the nearby elementary school, while Jamie worked as a contractor. With most of his projects a few hours away in Memphis, Jamie only came home on the weekends.
“Jamie is clean now, but when Britney was growing up, he was a horrible addict,” one of Jamie’s former managers told Rolling Stone Magazine in 2008. “She is the product of some very, very bad genetics.” As a way of relieving some of the pressure in her marriage, Lynne became fixated on her talented daughter. When Britney was just three years old, she was already enrolled in the choir and gymnastics and dance lessons.
By six, Britney had already won Miss Talent Central States, and at eight years old, Lynne drove her daughter eight hours to Atlanta to audition for The Mickey Mouse Club. Lynne knew that her daughter was too young for the show, so she passed her off as nine.
While Britney didn’t make the cut (this time), she did catch the casting director’s eye, who recommended that Lynne get her daughter a talent agent in New York. As Jamie’s construction company began to falter, the couple decided to invest in their daughter. If Britney could make it as a star, the family would be saved from financial ruin. So, they sent her to Manhattan.
Over the next couple of years, Britney and Lynne split their time between Kentwood and New York as Britney was booked for job after job. She acted in commercials, landed the lead in a Broadway play, and performed on Star Search in 1992. Then, in 1993, at 12 years old, Britney’s dream (or rather her mother’s) finally came true.
She was cast on The Mickey Mouse Club alongside future stars Ryan Gosling, Justin Timberlake, and Christina Aguilera. Tony Lucca, who was 17 at the time, says that Britney impressed everyone with her dance moves. He says that the older kids “would always ask Britney how the [dance] combinations went because she was really great at committing them to memory.”
After thriving as a Disney star, Britney began to apply her skills to a nearly identical demographic. Thanks to Generation Y, the teen music scene was exploding thanks to the Spice Girls and the Backstreet Boys.
Britney was quickly picked up by Larry Rudolph, a manager who was in the process of forming ‘NSync with Johnny Wright, the manager of the Backstreet Boys and New Kids on the Block. Rudolph and Wright sent Britney to Sweden to record with Swedish pop master Max Martin, who had just written her future smash hit, Baby One More Time.
After returning home from Sweden, Britney headed back to her Christian day school in Mississippi. When Britney was at school, her life was normal. She had basketball practice and a boyfriend, Reg Jones. However, Jones didn’t fit Rudolph’s marketing plan for his new teen pop star.
At the beginning of 1999, Britney came out with her music video for Baby One More Time. Although she was on her way to becoming a full-blown star, Britney was humble. She washed her own dishes, did her own laundry, and called her assistants “ma’am.” But life on the road was tough.
“We would wake up Britney at 6 a.m., and she’d work on a video for three or four days straight for twenty hours a day,” her driver Abe Sarkisyan told Rolling Stone Magazine. “She was a kind, generous sweetheart with a big heart and no poor habits.”
Back then, Britney was a girlie girl goofball who burped a lot and liked practical jokes. In almost all aspects, she was sheltered and naïve. Although she covered Satisfaction in 2000, when she ran into Mick Jagger in an elevator, she had no idea who he was.
Lynne had a minor role in her daughter’s management at the beginning of Britney’s career. But she soon disappeared from Britney’s side as she began to lay the groundwork for her second daughter’s career in Hollywood, Jamie Lynn.
Britney’s father was out of the picture completely. “It was upsetting for Britney to be around her dad,” a source told reporters in 2008. “He came backstage one night, and he was wasted. She was devastated.” Britney told friends that Jamie was emotionally abusive and that she didn’t want anything to do with him.
Britney’s first two albums, Baby One More Time and Oops!… I Did It Again, sold more than 39 million records, making her one of Jive Record’s best-selling acts. Some people in the singer’s camp argued that she was way too young to be pushed this hard. Britney was only a teenager.
They wanted her to go back to Kentwood to reconnect with her childhood friends. “There were meetings where people would fight about giving Britney a break, but in the end, the machine always won,” an anonymous friend shared. “Britney wanted it too, but she wasn’t aware of the price tag.”
The people who advocated for a break were pushed aside. This was the first red flag. The second was when things began changing backstage. Although she had a squeaky-clean image, Britney became involved with the wrong crowd, and her management did nothing to stop it.
“There were all these slick businessmen for Britney who let seedy people come around, offering her drinks and drugs, and she thought it was fun,” the friend continued. “If Britney wanted to party to blow off stress, that’s what her team wanted her to do.”
The pop star’s savior was her former Mickey Mouse Club castmate, Justin Timberlake. Career driven, the ‘NSync member had his head on straight. “He became the great force in her life, but it started a pattern,” the singer’s friend says.
“She began to look for guys to help her get away from the people who control her.” When the two began dating in 1999, Britney was one of the biggest stars in the world. Timberlake, on the other hand, was just a member of a boyband. While this power imbalance may have bothered other couples, it wasn’t a problem for them.
But once again, Britney had to follow her manager’s strict rules. At first, their relationship had to be kept under wraps. When tabloids finally did find out, Britney and Timberlake were instructed to tell everyone that they planned on staying abstinent until marriage—which was simply not the case.
The singer’s management, who were all middle-aged men, were hell-bent on keeping her image as innocent as possible. Britney, however, wanted to be taken more seriously. In her mind, mature women wore promiscuous outfits. Not wanting to scare off her fanbase, her managers prohibited it.
With the release of her third album, Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman, Britney was told that she could change, but just a little. However, the pop star was ready to leave her innocent image behind. This time, the singer had backup.
Her main creative collaborator, Wade Robson, also thought it was time for Britney to blossom into a woman. Britney introduced this new version of herself by draping a yellow snake around her shoulders as she performed I’m a Slave 4 U, at the VMAs in 2001 (just to put into perspective, the 2001 VMAs premiered just five days before 9/11).
Soon, her sexual awakening began to get the best of her. Britney allegedly began sleeping with Robson, who also happened to be Timberlake’s close friend. Both Robson and Britney have denied the affair, but according to Rolling Stone Magazine, it’s a different story.
Timberlake found a love letter in Britney’s room in February 2002. It coincidently happened on the same day the couple was set to perform on Saturday Night Live together. Britney and Timberlake sat backstage together, miserable, as Britney apologized profusely. Timberlake, however, refused to accept her apologies.
The couple officially called it quits in March 2002. Their breakup was a terrible shock, especially as it was followed by Jamie and Lynne’s divorce just two months later. But even though her personal life had just been turned upside down, her management didn’t seem to care.
“No one took the time to say to Britney, ‘Let’s take some time off here, let’s get you some counseling,’” an ex-assistant manager said in 2008. “They expected her to have the drive, to dust it off.” The pop star realized that her career was no longer making her happy—she needed a man.
Almost immediately after their breakup, Britney began looking for love in nightclubs with inappropriate bachelors like Colin Farrell and at the studio with Fred Durst—who later boasted about their affair on The Howard Stern Show. Without a strong sense of identity, Britney began dating anyone that came her way.
After the singer’s kiss with Madonna at the 2003 VMAs, she reportedly began to think that the two were soulmates. “Maybe she was my husband in another life,” Britney told reporters after the performance. The two became friends, and according to the pop star’s ex-manager, Britney began to feel more confident.
After seeing that Madonna answered to no one, Britney began to think that she could do the same. “But Madonna doesn’t need to be told what to do. Britney does,” the pop star ex-manager said in 2008. A few months later, Britney flew back to Kentwood for the holidays.
She stayed at a small house on her parents’ property with a couple of old friends—including her childhood crush, Jason Alexander. After getting into a fight with her mom one morning, 22-year-old Britney packed her bags and headed to Vegas on a private plane with her friends for a trip that was heard around the world.
According to Alexander, the group did every drug imaginable. Then, on January 3, 2004, at 3:30 in the morning, Britney and Alexander took a lime green limousine to the Little White Wedding Chapel and tied the knot. A few hours later, the couple called their parents to share the news.
Lynne was furious, to say the least. She flew out to Vegas, separated the couple, and hired lawyers to annul the marriage. But the news of Britney’s nuptials had already spread like wildfire. Her wedding pictures were plastered on the cover of every tabloid.
Unfortunately, Alexander buckled under the pressure of national fame and eventually dropped out of college. Britney was furious about the entire situation. But even though she continued to wear her wedding ring in defiance, her mother put her foot down, or at least she tried to.
Lynne forbade Britney to attend the Grammy Awards by keeping her in Kentwood and making her go to church instead. Within a few months, however, Britney hit the road to promote her new album, In the Zone. By the time she filmed the video for Everytime, she was already down the rabbit hole, and there was no going back.
Britney found her “soulmate” a few weeks later. His name was Kevin Federline: a 25-year-old cornrowed dancer who just had a kid with his baby mama Shar Jackson. Nicknamed “Meat Pole,” Federline was pretty prominent in the L.A. nightlife scene.
Coincidently enough, the dancer had previously worked with Timberlake. Britney became infatuated with him, but many say it was for all the wrong reasons. “Part of it was that she wanted to pimp Justin’s dude, get his spot and throw it in Justin’s face,” an anonymous friend told Rolling Stone in 2008.
Soon after meeting Federline at a club one night, Britney invited him on tour. The two got matching tattoos (of dice on their wrists, no less) and videotaped each other nonstop. With little else on her mind except for her new boyfriend,
Britney was somewhat relieved when her knee gave out in the middle of the tour since the doctors prescribed four months of rest. A week later, Britney proposed to Federline, who said no, pretended to be horrified, and then proposed to her a few minutes later. He sure sounds like a keeper.
While the nuptials were originally planned as a large October wedding in Santa Barbara, the couple were forced to drastically change their plans after the paparazzi found out the wedding date and location. The couple’s wedding planner Alyson Fox was then left with less than ten days to organize a new wedding.
The paparazzi was ruthless. Not trusting other venues to keep Britney and Federline’s wedding a secret, Fox held it at her own home. So, after three months of dating, the couple officially tied the knot on September 18, 2004. In many people’s eyes, this date also marked the beginning of her downfall.
Two weeks after their September wedding, Britney decided to fire her manager Rudolph and her mother, Lynne. “Kevin convinced Britney that he was going to get the users out of her life,” a friend of the couple told Rolling Stone Magazine. “They were going to run her business together.”
Instead of focusing on music, the couple decided to turn their life into a business. They sold their wedding photos to People Magazine for a whopping $1 million, and Britney began a blog, which charged a $25 membership fee. The two began having kids almost immediately. Sean Preston was born a year after they married, and Jayden two years later.
With close to zero interest in her recording career (the singer recorded three songs in three years) and a new family, Britney began to fully embrace her white-trash roots. She walked into gas station bathrooms barefoot and dumped dirty ashtrays from hotel windows.
She also wore t-shirts that read “I’m a Virgin, but This Is an Old Shirt” and was photographed not strapping her kids into their car seats. Federline didn’t seem to mind. He was too busy living it up with his newfound money. He was often seen driving around Hollywood in his $250,000 Ferrari with tacky, monogrammed rims.
When Federline wasn’t out trying to get the paparazzi’s attention, he was getting stoned in the recording studio while making his rap album. Federline seemed to act more like a boy than the man that Britney needed in a relationship.
“He was a boy to her, turning his back on her for his bros and that fame.” Soon, all her old insecurities, like fear of abandonment and loneliness, began to creep up on the pop star. Her unstable relationship, post-partum depression, and a loss of purpose took their toll, and Britney began on an even further downward spiral.
Fortunately for Britney, she finally realized that Meat Pole wasn’t the one. After two years of marriage, she asked for a divorce via text message. She rehired her former manager, Larry Rudolph, who took her ice skating in Manhattan for a photo op, in hopes of rebuilding the pop star’s image.
Unfortunately, Britney was too far down the rabbit hole. She didn’t want to be a little girl again. Night after night, the singer was photographed hitting the clubs and vomiting in public with her new gal pal, Paris Hilton.
Rudolph squashed the friendship, and while it may have been the best thing to do at that moment, it made it very clear to Britney that she had no say in her life. It was clear to everyone that Britney had to go to rehab, but she could no longer handle being told what to do.
One day after arriving at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads in Antigua, she stormed out and flew coach to L.A. to see her boys. Her management sadly abused their role in running her life, but now that she needed to listen to them the most, Britney rebelled.
Britney arrived at Federline’s L.A. mansion to see her babies, but he refused to let her in. Her ex-husband had joined forces with Lynne and Rudolph. All three agreed that she couldn’t see her kids unless she went to rehab. Furious and dealing with her own demons, Britney drove to a random hair salon and asked hairdresser Esther Tognozz to shave her head.
The hairdresser refused, but when her back was turned, Britney grabbed the clippers and began shaving her own head. Although Britney had two bodyguards who were supposed to protect her from the paparazzi, they did nothing as more than 70 photographers took her picture.
Britney then drove to a tattoo parlor where she asked for two tattoos: a pair of a woman’s lips and a cross. “[There was] an insane roaring sound outside,” tattoo artist Emily Wynne-Hughes told interviewers in 2019. “I wasn’t sure what was happening if there was a riot outside, and then the flashes came.”
Wynne-Hughes also said that her bodyguards didn’t seem to care about how Britney was feeling and what she was going through. “I’ve felt this insane sense of anxiety and energy that felt so negative,” Wynne-Hughes continued. “It just seemed like everybody was waiting for the crash to happen.”
Following her very public meltdown, Britney cut out every person in her life who believed she needed help: her parents, her ex-husband, Rudolph, and even her childhood friends. She refused to admit that she had a problem, and she wasn’t surrounded by people who genuinely cared about her.
She signed a new contract with The Firm and began working out a few times a week, which was an improvement, but not enough. Then came her disastrous performance at the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards. On the day of the show, Britney arrived early to rehearse and saw Timberlake up on stage.
Her face suddenly fell, and the anxiety kicked in. What was Timberlake going to think of her performance? What were her peers and her fans, who so wanted a comeback, going to think? She bolted to her dressing room backstage was pacing back and forth when Timberlake came to the door, according to Rolling Stone Magazine.
But Britney wasn’t ready to face her ex-boyfriend. She thought that maybe after getting her hair put in, she would feel more confident. It had been seven months since she shaved her head, and her real hair was less than half a foot long.
There was a blonde wig waiting for her by wig master Ken Pavés. But in the middle of a nervous breakdown, Britney couldn’t bring herself to sit still for hours while the Pavés glued the wig to her headpiece by piece. She refused to let Pavés touch her head, which offended the wigmaker.
He stormed off, and by the time Britney’s management calmed her down, there was only an hour until her performance, which wasn’t enough time. Someone grabbed Nelly Furtado’s stylist, who immediately began gluing in some straight blonde strands of hair.
Then, it came time to get dressed. She put on a corset dress over her sparkly black bikini, but then she immediately took it off. According to Rolling Stone Magazine, Britney refused to wear the dress. She wanted to go on stage as natural as she could be.
For Britney, this meant just a bikini. She wanted her fans to love and accept her for who she was. Unfortunately, Britney was ridiculed for her performance. The sad thing is, looking back years later, fans and critics either didn’t know or didn’t care that she was struggling.
In the wake of her performance, Britney again refused to answer any phone calls, including those from her management at The Firm. They eventually stepped down as her management, which was right around the time she met her “life coach,” Osamah Lutfi, also known as Sam.
After meeting at a party for the first time in 2007, Lutfi called Britney’s assistant, Kalie Machado. Lutfi claimed that he had some insight dirt on Federline and arranged to meet Machado at a Starbucks. According to Machado, Lutfi claimed that he worked as Federline’s private investigator.
Lutfi also claimed that Federline had tapped Britney’s phone and that police had a search warrant to search her home for drugs. It’s important that Federline denied having any connection to Lutfi, who previously had two temporary restraining orders against him for harassment.
For some reason or another, Britney befriended Lutfi, who slowly began taking over her life. He answered all her phone calls, controlled her finances, and, according to Britney’s parents, he began drugging her to be more in control. So, what made Britney’s parents finally step in and file a restraining order against Lutfi?
According to the petition, there was an incident in January 2008 that concerned Britney’s parents. In January 2008, Lynne, her friend, and Jamie went to visit Britney at her home. However, Lutfi would only let Lynne, her friend, and paparazzi inside the home—Jamie was told to wait outside.
Not only did Lynne find bottles of prescription pills, but she also allegedly saw Lutfi grind up pills and put them in Britney’s food. She wrote that Lutfi admitted to disabling Britney’s cars, throwing away her phone chargers, disconnecting the home phones, and hiding her dog.
“She looks for him all over the house crying, and then Sam brings out the dog from the hiding place and acts like her savior,” Lynne wrote in 2008. She also said that Lutfi claimed to have control over everyone in Britney’s life. “I control Howard Grossman, Britney’s business manager.”
“I control her attorneys and the security guards at the gate. They don’t listen to Britney, they listen to me.” That’s when Jamie and Lynne decided to not only file a permanent restraining order against Lutfi but to apply for a conservatorship—a legal guardianship enacted for those who are unable to make their own decisions.
Jamie petitioned for an emergency, temporary conservatorship in 2008 after his daughter was put in a 5150 hold twice for a mental health evaluation. It was granted, meaning that Jamie was given complete control of her estate, health, and negotiating business deals.
He also decides whom she marries and if she can have kids. However, twelve years later, this conservatorship is still intact today despite the fact that Britney has recorded several albums and even did a Las Vegas residency. While Britney works and cannot make her own decisions, her father takes home a six-figure income.
The Free Britney movement was formed by her fans with the hopes of freeing Britney from her conservatorship. It has gained a lot of media attention in recent years, with people who are around the singer speaking out.
Hollywood icon, Cher, has even tweeted that Britney works hard and is a “golden goose” for those around her. “Does anyone making money off her being sick want her (to get) well?” the singer Tweeted to her millions of followers. “Everyone in Vegas heard stories.” However, not everyone believes that the conservatorship is a bad thing.
Besides her manager and her father’s lawyer, who believe that “the conservatorship is not a jail,” Britney’s older brother, Bryan, has also spoken out in favor. In a rare interview, the TV producer says that the conservatorship has been great for the family.
He also adds that their father has done the best he could, given the situation. “One person might be on stage and doing this, but it’s a sacrifice from everybody,” Bryan said of Jamie in July 2020. “Everyone is putting in, to some degree, a little bit to keep everything going.”
Bryan, whose wife Graciella manages his youngest sister Jamie Lynn, also said that Britney talks of the conservatorship constantly. “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,” he continued.
“She’s wanted to get out of it for quite some time.” As of September 2020, the Spears family is in an all-out war with one another. Britney has been trying to make changes to her conservatorship by filing requests to have her father removed and has engaged with the #FreeBritney movement on Instagram.
It turns out that Lynne thinks that her daughter is ready to take control of her personal life and finances; however, Jamie disagrees. As of the end of 2020, the conservatorship is set to expire in February 2021. Britney is desperate for it to be over.
It’s especially hard on the singer since her two boys are living with her ex-husband, his wife, and their kids 70 percent of the time. “She needs to see the boys much more than she currently is,” a source told Business Insider. Federline, however, still wants 14-year-old Jayden and 15-year-old Sean to have a meaningful relationship with their mother.
Besides her mother, it seems that Britney has another person in her corner: her little sister Jamie Lynn. The youngest of the Spears children is known for her role as Zoey Brooks on the Nickelodeon sitcom Zoey 101. But a few months after Britney’s breakdown in 2007, Jamie Lynn also found herself in the midst of media scrutiny.
At 16 years old, Jamie Lynn announced that she was pregnant with her then-boyfriend’s child. Given her age and her show on Nickelodeon, Jamie was accused of “glamorizing” teenage pregnancy, while fans were disappointed with her on-screen “good girl” act and her real-life pregnancy.
Right before Jamie Lynn found out she was pregnant, she was sent by her manager to audition for a role in Twilight. Her contract with Zoey 101 had just ended, and they were keen on keeping the fame-train going. However, the actress wasn’t interested in the role for a few reasons.
“They had to force me. Force me,” Jamie Lynn told Nylon magazine in 2020. “I remember just thinking like, ‘Y’all are insane. I’m not playing a vampire. That is so stupid. Why would I do that?’” Not only did she not connect with the material, but she was also nauseous and unknowingly pregnant.
After announcing her pregnancy, Jamie and her then-boyfriend/fiancé, Casey Aldridge, moved to Mississippi and bought a house. After the birth of their daughter, Maddie, the couple separated, and Jamie Lynn took a five-year break from the spotlight to focus on being a mom.
A few months after breaking up with Aldridge (for the second time), Jamie Lynn finally found her happy ever after. She met and fell in love with businessman Jamie Watson. The two wed in 2014 in New Orleans, with Britney serving as one of her bridesmaids.
Despite her sister’s fame, Jamie Lynn says that she was never jealous. “I always looked at her with pride, and she was my biggest cheerleader guiding me in an honest way,” she told The Guardian in 2020. Jamie was approached by music producers multiple times to become a pop star; however, she wasn’t ready to become a singer.
“I think I was a little naïve to what I maybe was turning down,” she told Nylon in 2020. “That probably was a good thing.” Jamie Lynn was more focused on becoming an actress, and maybe subconsciously, separating herself from her sister’s fame.
While Jamie Lynn cannot speak about her sister’s conservatorship for legal reasons, she can say that the entire situation has been very difficult. “It makes me really sad because I love my family. All I can do is look for the good, not the bad,” the youngest Spears sibling continued.
“You can’t open that can of worms publicly. I don’t think it’s fair to anyone.” Jamie Lynn is now the trustee of her older sister’s fortune, but as for the conservatorship, her dad is still in charge. Despite everything that’s happened with her family, Jamie Lynn is focused on making a slow comeback.
She is currently working on a Zoey 101 reboot and is preparing to start filming the second season of Netflix’s Sweet Magnolias. Although it took a while, Jamie Lynn is finally ready to open herself back up to the media spotlight.
“I was always able to kind of have that bird’s eye view of the bigger picture [of fame],” the actress continued. “[Britney] was open with me about it. She taught me to protect myself. And I think that I learned how to be strong, but also keep it honest, and it was 100% helpful in every single way.”