Britney Spears speaks out against 'abusive' conservatorship in court

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Singer Britney Spears arrives at the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards in New YorkImage source, Reuters
Image caption,
The singer said she felt "forced" to perform and was punished when she spoke out

US pop star Britney Spears has launched a blistering attack on the "abusive" conservatorship that has controlled her life for 13 years.

She said she was traumatised and cried every day, telling a judge in Los Angeles: "I just want my life back".

Spears, 39, also said she had been denied the right to have more children and was put on the psychiatric drug lithium against her wishes.

Her father was granted control over her affairs by court order in 2008.

The order was granted after the star was put in hospital amid concerns over her mental health, and it has been extended for more than a decade since.

The special hearing on Wednesday was the first time Spears has spoken in open court about her case. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny thanked Spears for her "courageous" words during the proceedings.

It followed much speculation about the pop star's situation, with fans eagerly combing her social media output for clues. A fan-led movement, known as #FreeBritney, has campaigned for her legal freedom for years.

'I deserve to have a life'

Spears delivered an impassioned address which lasted for more than 20 minutes. After launching into her speech, she was asked by the judge to slow down and later said she wished she could stay on the phone "forever" to avoid returning to her life where she was surrounded by people who said no to her.

Spears told the court she wanted the conservatorship to end and described the arrangement as "embarrassing and humiliating".

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Britney Spears: Fans speak out against conservatorship

Referring to past Instagram posts, the singer said: "I've lied and told the whole world I'm okay and I'm happy.

"I've been in denial. I've been in shock. I am traumatised," she said. "I'm not happy. I can't sleep. I'm so angry it's insane. And I'm depressed. I cry every day."

Spears, a mother of two, said she wanted to marry her boyfriend and have another baby, but the conservatorship would not allow her to. She accused her conservator of stopping her from having a contraceptive intrauterine device (IUD) removed so she could get pregnant.

"I feel ganged up on and I feel bullied and I feel left out and alone," she told the court. "I deserve to have the same rights as anybody does, by having a child, a family, any of those things."

Spears said she felt "forced" to tour by her management. She said she spoke out against going straight onto a Las Vegas residency, and her therapist was falsely told she was not co-operating or taking her medication.

She alleged she was then put on the drug lithium - a common medicine for bipolar disorder - against her wishes and it had made her feel drunk and unable to converse.

Spears said it was her belief that the conservatorship was doing her "way more harm than good" and said she "honestly didn't know" she could petition for the arrangement to end.

The full extent of why the court order was extended has never been made public. But Spears has maintained a public career, including a Las Vegas residency and a stint as an X-Factor judge, leading many to question the validity of the arrangement.

Image source, EPA
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#FreeBritney campaigners gathered on Wednesday in support of Ms Spears

A lawyer for her father, Jamie Spears, said he had been troubled by the singer's allegations in court.

"He is sorry to see his daughter suffering and in so much pain," the lawyer said in a statement read out in court. "Mr Spears loves his daughter, and he misses her very much."

What is a conservatorship?

A conservatorship is granted by a court for individuals who are unable to make their own decisions, such as those with dementia or other mental illnesses.

Spears' conservatorship is split into two parts - one is for her estate and financial affairs, the other is for her as a person.

Under the agreement, the pop star has not controlled her finances since 2008. That is around the time she began to behave erratically amid her divorce from Kevin Federline and a custody battle over their children.

The star made headlines in a series of public incidents, including shaving her head, and she was twice admitted to hospital.

Timeline: The key dates

First taste of stardom

Britney Spears, 16, catapults to the top of global pop charts with her debut single ...Baby One More Time.

The teenage Spears generated both controversy and a loyal fandom
Image caption The teenage Spears generated both controversy and a loyal fandom Image copyright by Getty Images

More than 20 years later, her debut album of the same name remains the best-selling album by a teenage solo artist.

Personal struggles burst into public view

Spears is hounded by the press amid a tumultuous custody dispute with ex-husband Kevin Federline, allegations that she is an unfit mother and questions about her mental health.

Spears was often pictured fleeing from tabloid photographers
Image caption Spears was often pictured fleeing from tabloid photographers Image copyright by Getty Images

Amid the tabloid frenzy, she is captured on camera shaving her head. A few days later, she smashes a paparazzo’s SUV repeatedly with an umbrella.

Spears’ father becomes her conservator

After stints in hospital and rehab, Spears’ father Jamie petitions a Los Angeles court to place his daughter under a temporary conservatorship. He is charged with making decisions about her career, as well as her estate and financial affairs.

The conservatorship is extended indefinitely later that year.

Spears leaving a restaurant in Beverly Hills with her father Jamie
Image caption Spears leaving a restaurant in Beverly Hills with her father Jamie Image copyright by Getty Images

Las Vegas residency

Despite being unable to handle her own affairs, Spears continues to work. After rehabilitating her image with a successful seventh studio album and several appearances on television, she begins a four-year concert residency in Las Vegas.

Spears onstage at the Planet Hollywood resort in Las Vegas
Image caption Spears onstage at the Planet Hollywood resort in Las Vegas Image copyright by Getty Images

Tussling over the conservatorship

Spears says she is taking a break from work because of her father’s health issues. Later in the year, Jamie Spears steps away as her conservator temporarily, citing his poor health.

Britney Spears indicates through her lawyers that she no longer wants her father to be involved in handling her career. A lawyer says Spears is “afraid of her father” and will not return to the stage as long as he retains control.

Framing Britney Spears film premieres

A New York Times documentary about the pop star’s rise and fall, as well as about her treatment by the media, generates mass public interest in her conservatorship.

Britney speaks out

Supporters of Britney Spears outside the courthouse in Los Angeles
Image caption Supporters of Britney Spears outside the courthouse in Los Angeles Image copyright by Getty Images

In explosive court testimony, Britney Spears alleges she was drugged, forced to perform against her will and prevented from having more children under the conservatorship.

She says she will not perform again while her father retains control over her career, and officially requests for him to be replaced as her conservator.

Father plans to stand down

Jamie Spears says he is ready to step down as his daughter's conservator “when the time is right" and pledges to participate in an "orderly transition”.

He later asks the court if the conservatorship itself should continue, saying his daughter should be given the chance to manage her own affairs.

Father suspended as conservator

At a court in Los Angeles, a judge suspends Jamie Spears from the legal arrangement that gave him control over his daughter’s life.

Jamie Spears stepped down temporarily as his daughter's personal conservator in 2019 due to health reasons. She sought to permanently install Jodi Montgomery, a care professional, into the role instead of reinstating her father - but on Wednesday she said Ms Montgomery was "even starting to take it too far".

Her father remains co-conservator of her estate, along with the financial firm the Bessemer Trust.

Mr Spears's legal team has insisted he has done a good job of managing his daughter's finances. But a court-appointed lawyer for the pop star said she is afraid of him and will not return to the stage as long as he remains in control of her career.

Spears said Wednesday that she believed her father "he loved the control to hurt his own daughter 100,000%".

Dozens of fans gathered outside court on Wednesday, holding signs that read "Free Britney now!" and "Get out of Britney's life!"

"Everything she said was absolutely heartbreaking and it was actually even worse than I really thought it was," Megan Radford, one of the movement's founders, told the BBC.

Inside the court

David Willis, BBC News, Los Angeles

Britney Spears unleashed on a stunned courtroom the equivalent of 13 years of pent-up frustration - a torrent of accusation, anger and regret, all delivered in such a breathless monologue that at times the judge had to ask her to slow down.

She came across as isolated, lost and lonely; a superstar that has been relentlessly manipulated. We knew that she had asked to put her case directly to the judge, but few could have predicted such a tirade.

It amounted to a withering critique of the conservatorship process and the motives of many - members of her family chief among them - who were supposed to have been caring for her.

Why was this hearing so highly anticipated?

Both the #FreeBritney movement and the recent release of a New York Times documentary about the singer have renewed public interest in the case.

The pop star has never commented directly on her conservatorship battle, with her online persona remaining upbeat.

Image source, Getty Images
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A lawyer for the singer's mother, Lynne, has asked for her daughter's wishes to be heard

Court records from 2019, the last time she spoke in court, have never been made public. But earlier this week the New York Times said it had obtained confidential court documents that showed the singer had opposed the restrictions since 2014.

The newspaper also reported that the singer felt she was forced to stay at a mental health facility in 2019 on exaggerated grounds which she viewed as punishment for standing up for herself.

In April, the pop star asked to address the court through her court-appointed attorney.

What has the reaction been?

A number of celebrities have posted messages of support.

Pop star Justin Timberlake, her boyfriend in the 1990s, posted a thread of tweets calling for people to stand by her: "We should all be supporting Britney at this time. Regardless of our past, good and bad, and no matter how long ago it was… what's happening to her is just not right."

Timberlake made a public apology to Spears earlier this year after the New York Times documentary suggested he had treated her disrespectfully by discussing their sex life on the radio.

Spears's current boyfriend, the personal trainer and actor Sam Asghari, posted a picture on Instagram of himself in Free Britney T-Shirt.

Singer Mariah Carey tweeted: "We love you Britney!!! Stay strong."

Rose McGowan, the actor and MeToo activist, said Spears had every right to be angry, adding: "How would you feel if your life was stolen, dissected, mocked? STOP CONTROLLING WOMEN."