Taking Care of Britney Spears: The Shocking Sequence of Events That Led to Her Decade-Long Conservatorship

In 2008, the pop star's father was put in charge of his daughter's affairs, and despite her reestablishment as a success, the arrangement hasn't changed on paper

By Natalie Finn Mar 27, 2018 9:36 PMTags
Britney SpearsMediaPunch/REX/Shutterstock

Britney Spears spent $570 on gas in 2010. She sold a 8-year-old Ferrari for $78,000 in 2012. She spent $31,000 on her dogs in 2013. Target got $5,500 from her in 2014. In 2016, she treated herself to $120,000 in massages, nail care and other grooming services.

There's a reason we know all this, a reason why her itemized bills (if not the itemized receipts themselves, darn it) are a matter of public record.

For the past decade, Britney Jean Spears' finances, from her most extravagant purchases and eight-figure contracts to her trips to the 99 Cent Store, have been under the control of a conservatorship overseen by her father, Jamie Spears, and attorney Andrew M. Wallet. The gentlemen were installed as co-conservators of Britney's estate—and put in charge at the time of her medical care, career oversight and any monetary transaction—by a judge in the wake of her dual emergency hospitalizations in January 2008.

These days, with Spears once again a radiant stage presence who just completed a wildly successful Las Vegas residency and will be taking the show on tour this summer, not to mention a hands-on mother of two tween boys who ferries them to school and soccer practice and the beach, it's easy to forget that, technically, the 36-year-old is still not in charge of her own affairs.

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Not that 24-year-old Britney was super busy writing checks and poring over contracts and legal documents. She had people for that, and would've continued to have people for that, as almost all huge stars do.

By now Spears has been back in the game for far longer than she was ever out of the game, yet it remains her conservatorship that pays the people who take care of business. For instance, it's Jamie who was reportedly requesting to see his ex-son-in-law Kevin Federline's tax returns to see if the request to increase the $20,000-per-month in child support he gets from Spears is valid.

There have been multiple times over the years where it seemed as if the end of this arrangement was nigh, but the status quo remained, perhaps out of convenience, surely out of caution, and also because these things take certain efforts to get out of that no one has felt the urgency to undertake yet. Whatever the reasons, it certainly hasn't felt... necessary. At least to casual observers. But the formal observers may be about to weigh in for the first time in awhile.

A source tells Us Weekly that Jamie, who's now 65, is "actively consulting with Britney's medical team to determine if the conservatorship of Britney...should finally come to an end."


Even in hindsight, the exact trajectory of Spears' decline is hard to pinpoint, since it's not as if shaving her own head in front of the paparazzi in February 2007—as unforgettable as that was—was the first unpredictable or questionable thing she had done in the year (or five years) leading up to the fateful moment when Spears was deemed legally incapable of caring for herself. If skipping underwear or partying too much or marrying too hastily were causes for that much concern, half of Hollywood would be declared unfit for duty.

"It clearly wasn't working with her in control of the ship," Peter Katsis, a member of her management team in 2007, recalled to the New York Times in 2016. "It was overwhelming for her when she came of age."

But Britney Spears also spent years being indistinguishable—behavior-wise—from countless other young celebrities.

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In 1999, when she was only 17, she was denying rumors that she was involved with Justin Timberlake (or Nick Carter, or anyone else in her pop-star realm), telling Rolling Stone she was fully focused on work and had "no feelings at all."

People in her orbit described a young woman who was driven, down-to-earth and decisive, with a tendency to work herself too hard. She was on the go but remained close to Jamie, mom Lynne Spears, brother Bryan, sister Jamie Lynn and her Louisiana roots, and maintained a tight-knit inner circle.

Still only 18, she told RS in 2000, "It makes me feel good when people realize I'm just a kid, because people expect so much out of me right now."

If she didn't already know, she'd soon find out that it was nearly impossible to put a cap on what was expected of her—from fans, from those who flitted in and out of her life looking for something, and from those who were in the Britney business, from the record companies to the merchandisers to the paparazzi.

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"When I look at Britney, I see both a woman and a girl," Lynne Spears told Rolling Stone. "When she's home, at night she sleeps with me. She has her own bedroom, but she wants to sleep with me. She's a little girl. But then I hear her on the phone with her business, and she is such a taskmaster."

Spears still insisted that she and Timberlake weren't boyfriend and girlfriend. "We hook up every once in a while, and we'll talk. We're closer than me and Lance and Joey and the other guys in the group. Me and Justin are closer, just because we've known each other forever," she said. "We talk all the time, but we're not boyfriend and girlfriend. We just hang out."

They were dating, though, and by 2001 they were the hot couple—and perfectly out in the open about it, with their head-to-toe denim and other hallmarks of a duo in it to win it. "When people get too personal it bothers me," Spears admitted to Rolling Stone that summer. "But I'm not ashamed at all to say that I love him from the bottom of my heart. As far as love is concerned, with him, too much is not enough. He's everything."

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And then they broke up, crushing exponentially more hearts than their own and causing countless conspiracy theories about which one of them was the real culprit. Did Britney really break Justin's heart, inspiring "Cry Me a River," or was he unable to handle her skyrocketing career, as the Lifetime movie Britney Ever After suggested?

However it did go down, whatever led to the "time of pain" JT has persisted in referencing on multiple occasions, it wasn't just a life-changing event for a generation of fans.

Leon Gladstone, a lawyer defending Britney's parents in a defamation suit in 2012 (later dismissed) brought by Sam Lutfi (Spears' manager for a time during her toughest days), stated that Jamie and Lynne noticed a change in their daughter after she and Timberlake broke up.

And it did seem in 2002 that Spears had—if not "grown up" overnight exactly—then had certainly decided she was no longer that girl you thought you knew.

In October 2002, a single Spears told Rolling Stone that she felt "changed" and was tired of being in the carefully kept, closely watched, pop-princess bubble. (Her parents had also recently divorced.)

"...and that's why this time is so important for me—to be able to f--kin' pump my own gas and not have people do that for me. It's like, 'No, you don't have to go get me a Starbucks. Let me just go get it myself.' I sneak out of my hotel room all the time just to have that sense of freedom." She declared that she would rather be by herself forever than to settle for a guy just because she was lonely.

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In 2012 Gladstone stated in court that Spears, a decade prior, became depressed and acted out—and for years her behavior only grew more out of character, from her 55-hour marriage to childhood friend Jason Alexander in January 2004 to the whirlwind courtship that led to her marrying Kevin Federline in September 2004.

Her time with Federline was actually looked at as a relative calm period in the storm, as Spears welcomed son Sean in 2005 and then son Jayden in 2006, and they remain the loves of her life. But within weeks of filing for divorce in November 2006, Spears embarked on a very visible period of self-destruction.

In February 2007 she flew to Antigua to go to rehab at Eric Clapton's Crossroads Center but flew back to L.A. barely 24 hours later. "The first thing she did was try and visit her kids," a source said at the time. "But when she tried to see them she was told she needed to get help first. She kind of lost it."


It was then that she decided to publicly divest herself of her hair, leading her ubiquitous paparazzi escort to a salon in the San Fernando Valley and buzzing her locks off in big, shocking clumps, a fat middle finger to everyone watching then and everyone who would read about it within hours.

The next week she went to the celebrity-preferred Promises treatment center in Malibu, but that stay also lasted barely a day.

"Everyone in the family is crying and beside themselves," a close family friend told E! News at the time. "To say that the family is devastated is beyond an understatement. Nobody knows what to do."

Two days later, on Feb. 22, 2007, Spears returned to Promises and stayed for a month.

At the time, her divorce from Federline was still ongoing and Spears had custody of Sean and Jayden, while K-Fed had visitation rights. Her successful completion of her program at Promises boded well for her future custody negotiations. Spears was also gearing up for the release of her first new album in four years, Blackout.

They agreed to joint custody and a judge ultimately signed off on their divorce that July.

But in August, Spears was cited for hit-and-run for allegedly leaving the scene of a minor accident and driving without a valid license, and then was spotted driving anyway with her boys in the car.

Michael Caulfield/WireImage

In September, Spears' lost-looking "comeback" performance at the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards, which left the artist herself in tears backstage, wouldn't have fooled anyone into thinking that everything was OK on her end.

An order from the court to start undergoing random drug testing twice a week in order to maintain custody prompted hopes among her inner circle that she would return to rehab. L.A. Superior Court Commissioner (now Judge) Scott Gordon determined Spears was still involved in the "habitual, frequent and continuous use of controlled substances."

But on Oct. 1, Gordon granted Federline sole physical custody of Sean and Jayden.

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In an interview on Ryan Seacrest's radio show that Oct. 31, Spears acknowledged she couldn't really control the media coverage of her plight. "Like I said, people say what they want and do what they do," she said. "It's sad how cruel our world can be. At the end of the day, you just have to know in your heart that you're doing the best you can."

She did, however, start to screw with the media. Knowing they were out there, waiting for her, Spears would leave her house in the middle of the night for trips to CVS or to pump gas. She wore wigs. Gladstone would later say in court that Jamie Spears was already looking into the possibility of a conservatorship, they were so worried for Britney's well-being.

According to the 2012 Lutfi-Spears lawsuit proceedings, in January 2008 Britney took "all or most" of 30 tablets of prescription amphetamines within a 36-hour period. She then locked herself in the bathroom with Jayden and refused to turn the child over to Federline, after which an ambulance was called and Britney ended up hospitalized at UCLA Medical Center in the wee hours of Jan. 4, 2008. She was put on a 72-hour psychiatric hold (a 5150, meaning she was deemed a [potential danger to herself or others) but released just after 24 hours—though not before Dr. Phil McGraw visited and determined her to be in "dire need of medical and psychological intervention." (He maintained he was a friend of the family and was checking on her at her parents' request. Nevertheless, a planned episode was canceled.)


On Jan. 30, authorities were again called to Spears' house, by her psychiatrist, and first responders descended. Meanwhile, the rumor mill went into overdrive wondering what was going on behind closed doors.

Spears was admitted to the hospital again on the morning of Jan. 31, and once more put on a 5150 hold. The next day, Feb. 1, 2008, a judge appointed Jamie temporary co-conservator of Britney's affairs. She would resist the move, hiring her own attorney (then being deemed unfit to choose her own attorney, though she was appointed a legal advocate) to try and fight it, but ultimately the arrangement stuck. And in the end it was more important for Spears to prove that she only cared about getting better so she could be with her kids.

In October 2008, all sides agreed to make the conservatorship permanent, even though that would throw an extra wrench in almost everything Spears wanted to do—be it go on tour, invest in a business, or get married—in the future.

But at the same time, the conservatorship also allowed Spears the freedom to focus—on her health and personal relationships, and on her career. Her dad was never spotted giving the final say on costumes or anything like that. And by the end of that first year under the thumb of others, she was already back in her preferred mode of spotlight. (To this day she still has a legal advocate who ensures the conservators are doing right by her.)

Spears released her album Circus that November and rang in her 27th birthday Dec. 2 on Good Morning America, much to the delight of the crowd. Hugh Jackman sang "Happy Birthday" (albeit from Australia) and Reese Witherspoon and Taylor Swift sent video messages. Spears didn't have much to say (who wouldn't be overwhelmed?) but she looked happy to be there. She went back on tour in March 2009, barely 14 months after being rushed to UCLA Medical Center on a gurney.

And while not every venture, even when lucrative, has been a hit (being a judge on X Factor, meh), the cult of Britney has grown no less enthusiastic over the past 10 years. After being terrified during the roller-coaster months that bled from 2007 into 2008, her fans never stopped rooting for her.

"I am so proud of my daughter and all her accomplishments, but I am especially proud of the mom she is and the woman she has become," Lynne Spears told People in 2015. Britney said that never in her "wildest dreams" did she envision herself being so happy.

Last summer Spears reiterated that her No. 1 priority in life is her children.

"My kids come first, always," she told People. "There is nothing more rewarding than being a mom and watching my sons grow into young men."

And perhaps now she's ready to take matters—such as the hiring of the people and the paying of the checks to the people who deal with most matters—into her own hands.