A wild-eyed Britney Spears, then 26, was wheeled out of her Los Angeles home, strapped to a gurney in the back of an ambulance, and deposited at a hospital for 72-hours after suffering a psychiatric breakdown.
It was January 2008, almost a year since the singer had shaved her head in front of hordes of paparazzi and made headlines for her partying and erratic behaviour.
The singer was still in hospital when, a day later, she lost control over her finances and independence.
She was placed under a court-approved conservatorship that gave power over her assets and person to her father Jamie Spears and her lawyer Andrew Wallet.
Conservatorships are usually granted over the elderly or mentally ill, and dictate control over either the subject’s physical or mental health.
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But the singer’s particular conservatorship is double-pronged, comprising both of these things. It has stayed in place for the last decade, meaning that every single cent that Britney makes (and spends) is a matter of public record. According to reports, she cannot get married or have another baby without the approval of her conservators. In fact, she cannot even buy herself or her sons so much as a bucket of popcorn at the movie cinema without the transaction being noted in public financial documents.
What were the events leading up to the creation of the conservatorship? And what has Britney’s life been like since it was put in place?
CREATING THE CONSERVATORSHIP
The year 2007 was something of an annus horribilis for Britney Spears. The singer spent most of the year hounded by the tabloid media, who gleefully recorded every toe she put out of line.
At the time, Britney was struggling with substance abuse and reeling from the breakdown of her marriage to Kevin Federline the year prior. In 2007, she checked into rehab twice before checking herself out early. She partied, often without wearing any underwear.
For those close to Britney, her January 2008 breakdown was the final straw. While she was hospitalised her father sought the conservatorship in a court hearing, with Britney’s mother Lynne sitting in the audience. Temporary control was granted, with the conservatorship made permanent at the end of 2008.
HOW THE CONSERVATORSHIP WORKS
Initially, the conservatorship focused on Britney’s immediate health. Her father had the power to prevent people from visiting her while she was hospitalised in February 2008 and became the arbitrator of her medical records and legal contracts.
He was granted control over all of Britney’s assets, including her bank accounts, credit cards and the property that she owned in Los Angeles.
But over time, the conservatorship took on more wide-reaching implications in Britney’s life. Once it became permanent, Jamie gained control over every decision impacting Britney’s physical and mental health. That means everything from signing on to a Vegas world tour to buying a cup of coffee.
Jamie is responsible for making sure that Britney takes any medication she is prescribed and that she is physically well. He is also responsible for ensuring that everything that Britney does will benefit her mental and physical wellbeing.
According to the New York Times, Jamie stops anyone who might destabilise Britney’s mental health from having anything to do with her, a list of people that has included ex boyfriends and former managers. He has dominion over everything from the legal ins and outs of every business decision she makes to the running of her house and family. He approves publicity, magazine covers, sponsorship deals and partnerships.
For this, Jamie is reimbursed financially. According to the Forbes, Jamie receives $180,000 every year for his work as conservator over Britney’s estate. A court reviews and approves other expenses, like bills and rent on an office space.
In addition, Jamie received 1.5% of the revenue from Britney’s Las Vegas residency. In 2017, that number was in excess of $139 million, a tidy $208,000.
Britney’s lawyer is making money too. The aptly named Andrew Wallet asked for a pay increase to $594,000 a year in 2018, after serving as co-conservator with Jamie for more than a decade. According to documents filed by Wallet, he has not only overseen the singer’s estate increase in value by $28 million, but he has successfully kept Britney away from people who might expose her to illegal substances.
In March 2019, Wallet petitioned the courts to retire from his position as co-conservator of Britney’s estate.
“Substantial detriment, irreparable harm and immediate danger will result to the conservatee and her estate if the relief requested herein is not granted on an ex parte basis,” the court documents read. If Wallet resigns from his position, Jamie will serve as the sole conservator.
Britney also has a legal advocate, paid for by the estate, who serves as her spokesperson in all matters relating to the conservatorship.
WHAT IS LIFE LIKE FOR BRITNEY SPEARS NOW?
In 2008, when the conservatorship was first put in place, Spears told MTV that “it’s too in control”.
“If I wasn’t under the restraints I’m under, I’d feel so liberated,” she added. “There’s no excitement, there’s no passion … Even when you go to jail, you know there’s the time when you’re going to get out. But in this situation, it’s never-ending.”
This is one of the only times that Britney has explicitly referenced her conservatorship. In the rare interviews that the singer has given in the last decade, she does not mention it.
Instead, Britney has chosen to focus on the inroads she has made in relation to her mental health. Take, for example, this 2017 interview, in which she stressed: “Today I’m at a better place in my life. My kids shaped my personality and filled me. They made me not worry about what was happening to me.”
Britney’s life has certainly improved in the decade since her hospitalisation. Her career was resurrected, her business ventures (including the successful perfume lines) thrived and her personal life stabilised.
She’s in a good place in her personal and public life, something that she most definitely was not in 2008 when the conservatorship was put in place.
We know exactly what Britney spends her money on, because of the conservatorship whose records must be made public through the courts. For example, in 2012 Britney spent more than USD$300,000 on child support and care, $27,265 on cleaning expenses, $61,295.12 on personal grooming and wardrobe and $59,351.92 on automobile expenses. Rent on her Calabasas house totalled $19,000 a month, while the bills almost hit $10,000 a month.
Britney might be spending her money, but the conservators are in control of it. So, too, are they in control of big life decisions. According to reports in Us Weekly, Britney can’t get married to her boyfriend Sam Asghari or have a baby with him unless Jamie signs off.
“And Jamie is inclined not to,” a source told Us Weekly, “because it would only [create complicated] legal issues.”
WILL THE CONSERVATORSHIP EVER END?
Reports indicate yes. In 2018, rumours were circulating that Jamie was speaking to medical and legal experts about bringing his daughter’s conservatorship to a close, considering the progress that she had made both physically and mentally since her breakdown.
This is yet to officially happen, but there’s a chance that it might be on the horizon. Wallet’s resignation from the conservatorship leaves Jamie as the sole conservator, and Jamie is not well at the moment.
In January, Britney put her tour on hold to support her father, who underwent surgery on a ruptured colon at the end of 2018. There were rumours of a second operation needed in March. Right now, the focus of the entire Spears family is Jamie’s recovery.
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I don’t even know where to start with this, because this is so tough for me to say. I will not be performing my new show Domination. I’ve been looking forward to this show and seeing all of you this year, so doing this breaks my heart. However, it’s important to always put your family first… and that’s the decision I had to make. A couple of months ago, my father was hospitalized and almost died. We’re all so grateful that he came out of it alive, but he still has a long road ahead of him. I had to make the difficult decision to put my full focus and energy on my family at this time. I hope you all can understand. More information on ticket refunds is available on britneyspears.com. I appreciate your prayers and support for my family during this time. Thank you, and love you all… always.
“It’s important to always put your family first,” Britney said in an Instagram post in January. “We’re all so grateful that he came out of [his surgery] alive, but he still has a long road ahead of him. I had to make the difficult decision to put my full focus and energy on my family at this time. I hope you all can understand.”
— Hannah-Rose Yee is a freelance writer. Continue the conversation @hannahroserose