Britney Spears has called for an end to the “abusive” conservatorship that has governed her life for 13 years, delivering an emotional speech to a Los Angeles court and saying: “I just want my life back.”
Spears addressed the court during a hearing on the unusual legal arrangement that has stripped the singer of her independence since 2008. The conservatorship has given her father, Jamie Spears, control over her estate, career and other aspects of her personal life.
“I want to end the conservatorship without being evaluated,” Spears said in a lengthy speech, during which she condemned her father and the others who have controlled the arrangement.
“This conservatorship is doing me way more harm than good,” she said. “I deserve to have a life ... I’m great at what I do. All I want is to own my money … [and] share my story to the world. I want to be able to be heard.”
Spears said she has been forced to work against her will, and that the conservatorship has blocked her from getting married and having a baby. She said she wanted to get her birth control removed so she could try to have another child, but that she was not allowed to go to the doctor. She said her boyfriend is also prohibited from driving her in his car, and that she is blocked from seeing some friends.
She directly excoriated her father, saying, “He loved the control to hurt his own daughter 100,000%.” At one point, she said, she cried for an hour on the phone and said he “loved” it and enjoyed having control over someone as powerful as her.
“I’ve lied and told the whole world I’m OK and I’m happy,” Spears said, adding that she wanted to sue her family. She compared her situation to “sex trafficking”, noting that she was forced to work while having no control over her finances and no independence: “The people who did that to me should not be able to walk away so easily.”
Spears, who appeared by phone and spoke rapidly, said her management had threatened to sue her if she didn’t perform in 2018: “It was very threatening and scary ... I’m not here to be anyone’s slave.”
She said her management falsely accused her of not taking her medication at the time. She also said the conservatorship has recently forced her to attend therapy in Westlake, where she gets bombarded by the paparazzi, and she requested that she be allowed to do therapy in her home: “I deserve privacy … It’s not OK to force me to do anything I don’t want to.”
She said she was at one point forced to take lithium, which was very strong: “I felt drunk. I couldn’t even have a conversation with my mom or dad really about anything ... my whole family did nothing.” At the hearing, she requested that she be allowed to choose her own lawyer, and that she be permitted to speak out, noting that her parents give media interviews while she is barred from talking to press.
“I shouldn’t be in a conservatorship if I can work,” she said, adding: “The laws need to change … I don’t feel like I can live a full life.”
In a short statement at the end of the hearing, Vivian Thoreen, the attorney for Jamie Spears, said: “He is sorry to see his daughter suffering and in so much pain. Mr Spears loves his daughter and misses her very much.”
The judge, Brenda Penny, said the singer’s lawyer could file a formal petition to end the conservatorship.
‘This is unacceptable’
The singer’s appearance was highly anticipated; the 39-year-old star almost never participates in the court proceedings, but her lawyer this year told the judge she wanted to speak out and requested a hearing “on an expedited basis”.
It also comes one day after the New York Times reported on confidential documents revealing that Spears has for years strongly objected to the conservatorship and the many powers her father has had over her.
Outside the courtroom on Wednesday, fans had gathered hours before the hearing was due to start, wearing #FreeBritney flags and shirts and holding cardboard cutouts of the star.
“I want people to understand that this is unacceptable. This is not a gray area, he-said-she-said situation. In my view, a crime has been committed against Britney Spears,” said Tess Barker, the co-host of the popular Britney’s Gram podcast, who has consistently attended the singer’s hearings.
Carlos Morales, 26, who showed up with a large Britney flag, added, “She’s been with me all my life. Her music is inspiration to me, and I’m here to support her and pay her back.”
Fellow celebrities also voiced their support for Spears following the hearing. “We love you Britney!!! Stay strong,” Mariah Carey tweeted, while Brandy said she was sending “love and support to Britney Spears and her fans”. The actor and activist Rose McGowan; the Planned Parenthood president, Alexis McGill Johnson; and the View co-host Meghan McCain also spoke out on Twitter against Spears’ conservatorship.
Justin Timberlake, her former boyfriend who has faced widespread scrutiny for the way he treated the star, tweeted, “We should all be supporting Britney at this time … No woman should ever be restricted from making decisions about her own body.”
Conservatorship is a type of court-appointed guardianship intended for people who can no longer make decisions for themselves, typically older and infirm people. But critics have argued that the process can be exploited and have pointed to Spears’s case as an example of such abuse.
Spears’s arrangement has faced intense scrutiny in the months since the release of Framing Britney Spears, a New York Times-produced documentary that chronicled the fraught process that led the courts to place the singer under a conservatorship. The film cast a harsh light on the abusive paparazzi and media that aggressively covered Spears’s mental health challenges, and also depicted her father as being largely absent from her life until he took control of her estate amid the singer’s struggles.
A lawyer who claimed to have met with Spears in 2008 told the film-makers that she had said at the time she did not want her father as a conservator. The documentary further highlighted the apparent contradictions of her arrangement – that she could be performing sold-out shows and making millions, but also be considered incapable of making basic decisions about her health and finances.
Spears’s lawyers, appointed by the court, filed for Jamie to be removed as a conservator last year, alleging that the singer was “afraid of her father” and claiming she would not perform while he continued to exercise control of her estate. Jamie is a co-conservator of the estate alongside a corporate fiduciary, known as Bessemer Trust.
Her father had previously acted as a personal conservator, giving him authority over her medical and mental health treatment, but a professional licensed conservator has taken over that job.
The Guardian reached out to attorneys for all parties in the conservatorship.
‘A controlling tool’
The Times report on Tuesday revealed that Spears told a court investigator in 2016 that the conservatorship had “become an oppressive and controlling tool against her” and she had raised concerns that the arrangement gave her father authority over who she dated and befriended, how she designed her kitchen and how much money she was given as a weekly allowance. She also said she was forced to perform while sick with a 104F fever.
#FreeBritney activists, who were featured in the documentary, have pushed for Jamie to be ousted and for the conservatorship to be entirely dissolved.
“I want her to be able to speak freely from her heart, and I’m praying that the judge actually listens,” said Junior Olivas, a #FreeBritney advocate, before the hearing. “The whole world is watching this case, and the time is now for Britney to really let them know what she wants.”
The 33-year-old longtime fan, who appeared in the documentary, has for years rallied outside the courtroom in support of the singer.
“In the beginning, no one paid attention or laughed us off … but finally people are paying attention and actually understanding that something is wrong here.” The revelations this week added fuel to their cause, he said: “She was crying for help but nobody was listening.”
Megan Radford, another #FreeBritney advocate, noted that male celebrities have not faced the same kind of scrutiny and loss of autonomy when they have suffered public breakdowns.
“It’s dangerously stigmatizing to say someone who may or may not have mental health struggles needs to have their rights stripped away from them and reassigned to another human being,” she added. The Times report, she said, made clear that the “justice system has failed Britney … She has been totally robbed of 13 years of her life for no reason.”
“I watched Britney grow up. I’ve been a fan since she was a teenager,” said Kim Van Doorn, 45, outside the courthouse on Wednesday. Van Doorn came with her wife to LA, traveling from Bakersfield, hours north of the courthouse. “I want whatever she wants for her future. But of course as a fan, I want her to continue to make music and come back as the bad Britney bitch that she is.”
Spears appeared to endorse the #FreeBritney movement in a statement from her lawyer last year that said, “Britney welcomes and appreciates the informed support of her many fans.” Her father had dismissed the campaign as a conspiracy theory.
A representative for Jamie’s lawyer declined to comment on the New York Times report on Tuesday. His attorney told reporters in February, “Jamie Spears has diligently and professionally carried out his duties as one of Britney’s conservators, and his love for his daughter and dedication to protecting her is clearly apparent to the court.”