ONE of the saddest celebrity spectacles I’ve ever witnessed was Britney Spears’ X Factor appearance back in 2008 for what was touted at the time as her big ‘comeback.’
The world’s supposedly biggest pop star gyrated awkwardly around the stage in front of 12million viewers, wearing hot pants, fishnets and knee-high boots, and shamelessly lip-synched on a live singing talent show.
Piers Morgan says Britney Spears finally looks like a woman ‘having fun again’Britney on the X Factor in 2008 – one of the ‘saddest celebrity spectacles’ Piers has ever witnessedRex FeaturesThe pop superstar posted a series of nude throwback pics on Instagram this weekInstagram/Britney Spear
This last shocking fact became embarrassingly clear when host Dermot O’Leary had to hand her a microphone for their excruciating post-performance chat, because her own mic was just a non-active prop.
And she couldn’t answer his question about what she thought of the acts who’d competed that night, all singing her songs, because she hadn’t even bothered to watch them.
I was a judge on Simon Cowell’s other big show Britain’s Got Talent at the time, so knew many of the X Factor crew and they told me that backstage things were even worse.
Britney, then 27, had apparently been an outrageous prima donna – demanding she be given Cowell’s dressing room (an unprecedented takeover!) where large placards were erected on the walls adorned with slogans including: ‘You are an AMAZING dancer’, ‘Everybody LOVES you’ and ‘You’re going to NAIL IT tonight’.
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She refused to spend any time with the acts and insisted that nobody on the set be allowed to make eye contact with her which was ironic since by the end of the evening, nobody wanted to.
As I wrote, harshly, at the time: “Based on this diabolical performance and her pathetic antics behind the scenes, from a professional point of view Britney is finished. And the only way she’s ever going to ‘hit me baby one more time’ is if I’m lying manacled to a torture-chamber bed.”
When I read those words back now, I’ll admit that I shudder at how I mocked her so mercilessly.
Because in fact, Britney was trapped inside what she considered to be a very real torture-chamber, with her life restricted by very tight manacles.
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A few months earlier, her father Jamie had successfully filed for conservatorship of his daughter so he could legally control her personal and professional life.
She wasn’t allowed to drive her car or choose her own meals, nor leave her home without permission; she had all her telephone calls monitored and was watched over day and night by guards hired by her father – but paid for by her.
If she went on a date, two members of her team had to accompany her.
She was only allowed to consume 1,200 calories a day on a strictly policed diet.
The conservatorship was so draconian that respected Rolling Stone writer Jenny Eliscu, who interviewed Britney a few months later, wrote: “She has about as many legal rights as when she was in the Mickey Mouse Club as a little girl.”
Jamie Spears argued all this was necessary to bring Britney back from the abyss that led to her losing custody of her children to ex-husband Kevin Federline after a series of lurid incidents suggesting she was having severe mental health issues including the infamous time she sheared off her hair at a tattoo parlour.
But for Britney, the conservatorship felt like a different kind of abyss.
“Even when you go to jail you know there’s the time when you’re gonna get out,” she said at the time. “In this situation it’s never-ending. It’s just like Groundhog Day every day. There’s no excitement, there’s no passion. I think it’s too in control. If I wasn’t under the restraints I’m under, I’d feel so liberated.”
Thirteen years later, in 2021, after a global #FreeBritney campaign, the troubled singer was finally released from the legal shackles of that conservatorship.
She was indeed free at last.
And she’s making it very clear that she now feels a tremendous sense of liberation.
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This week, Britney posted a series of full-frontal nude photos to her Instagram, using her hands and loveheart emojis to hide her most intimate body parts.
“Photo dump of the last time I was in Mexico BEFORE there was a baby inside me,” she wrote in the caption, “Why the heck do I look 10 years younger on vacation?”
Within minutes, concerned fans were posting messages saying things like, “This girl she is sick, she is crying for help,” and “I’m pretty sure that conservatorship was in place for a reason.”
And to be honest, my initial reaction when I saw them was to be concerned too.
Was she having another mental illness episode?
But then I looked at the pictures again, thought about it more, and found myself agreeing with a photographer named Matt Bernstein who commented: “I swear people forget that Britney was in prison of her father’s design for the past 13 years. She missed the years when we were all terrible at Instagram and used those tacky in-app filters. She’s feeling herself. Let her be.”
Britney herself said of that period of her life: “I was a f***ing nun in my conservatorship!!! The prayer of silence I’ve endured would possibly offend the Pope.”
And when she posted a previous naked photo a few months ago, before deleting it, she explained: “I bet you’re wondering why I’d expose my body NOW … well it’s because I was born into this world naked and I honestly feel like the weight of the would has been on my shoulders and it’s made me view myself that way …I wanted to see myself in a lighter way … naked … like the way I was born.”
I get that.
I’m not a fan of cynical disingenuous female reality stars like Kim Kardashian and Emily Ratajkowski who strip off claiming they’re making some stand for feminist empowerment.
Any woman can take their clothes off, and the only thing those two ruthlessly commercial creatures want to empower is their bank balance.
But I can understand and respect why Britney has done it.
She doesn’t want to make any kind of statement other than that she’s free again, to be whatever she wants without having to have it approved first by her controlling father and a legal system that turned her into a virtual slave.
Another famous woman, actress Hilary Duff, posed naked this week for Women’s Health magazine and was celebrated for it.
Nobody’s accused her of going mad or needing a man to dictate what she is allowed to do.
“At 34, I have gained a lot of respective for my body,” Duff said. “It’s taken me all the places I need to go, it’s helped me build a beautiful family. I feel like the older I get, the more confident I get in my own skin.”
I suspect Britney feels the same way, which is why she posted these naked photos.
She has found relationship happiness again with fiancé, actor Sam Asghari, and is pregnant with their child.
(To understand the significance of this, during her conservatorship, she was forced to use birth control to stop her having another baby.)
In another Instagram video post yesterday, as “concern” mounted about her state of mind, Britney was in a flowery dress smiling and feigning a fashion catwalk run.
She looked incredibly happy, and incredibly free.
I don’t think Britney Spears has overcome all her demons by any means.
But we shouldn’t be adding to them by saying she’s gone bonkers for proudly showing off her body now that she has the confidence to do so.
The Britney I saw on X Factor 13 years ago was a tragic train wreck and I genuinely feared she would never recover.
The Britney I saw on Instagram this week is a woman reborn.
And a woman free.
Give her a break – she’s having fun again.
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Tim StewartBritney, pictured with her father Jamie Spears, who controlled her conservatorship for 13 years[/caption]
INSTAGRAM/SAM ASGHARIThe singer is now engaged to actor Sam Asghari and is pregnant with their child[/caption]
She burst onto the scene in 1998 with the worldwide smash hit Baby One More Time