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I once thought she was a vacuous pop bimbo, writes SARAH VINE… But Britney’s angry new memoir is full of self-knowledge and even wisdom that lets us see into her mind – and also, I think, her heart


Ever since Britney Spears was released from her strict conservatorship two years ago, pop music’s erstwhile ­princess has been on a mission to free herself of the past and show the world who she really is.

No longer an indentured slave to her father, instead of ­performing sell-out shows in Las Vegas, she now performs for her 42 million followers on Instagram, to a mixed reception.

Her posts are, to put it bluntly, rather worrying, ranging from the obscene to the bizarre to the deeply disturbing. 

One minute she’s playing with her dogs, the next she’s trying on ever tackier outfits, the next she’s gyrating in her smallest of smalls, fixing the camera with a haunting thousand-yard stare.

Recently she posted a video of herself dancing with a pair of knives in what (after countless followers professed concerns) she later explained was a tribute to Shakira‘s performance at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards.

The publication this week of her memoir, The Woman In Me, is designed in some ways to take the reader through the looking glass and show the world Britney's story not from the perspective of her handlers, her exes, her family or the media, but her own emotions and ­experiences. And I have to say, it's compelling stuff

The publication this week of her memoir, The Woman In Me, is designed in some ways to take the reader through the looking glass and show the world Britney’s story not from the perspective of her handlers, her exes, her family or the media, but her own emotions and ­experiences. And I have to say, it’s compelling stuff

And it’s true: Shakira did ­incorporate knives into her glitzy, ­provocative stage act. But ­Britney’s interpretation felt more than a little unhinged. 

There was something deeply disturbing about this once seemingly unstoppable young woman, famous for bringing a python on stage at the same awards event almost 20 years ago, now playing with kitchenware on her own in an empty mansion.

Many have started to question whether that infamous conservatorship — lifted in large part thanks to a grassroots campaign by her loyal legion of fans — was in place for a good reason.

The publication this week of her memoir, The Woman In Me, is designed in some ways to answer that question; to take the reader through the looking glass and show the world Britney’s story not from the perspective of her handlers, her exes, her family or the media, but her own emotions and ­experiences. And I have to say, it’s compelling stuff.

Even if you’re not a fan of her music, there’s no denying Britney has her place in the cultural landscape of the 21st century. 

Her debut album, Baby One More Time, released in 1999 when she was just 16, made her the best-­selling teenage artist of all time; the video for the single — a Lolita-like interpretation of teenage lust — pushed all the boundaries

Her debut album, Baby One More Time, released in 1999 when she was just 16, made her the best-­selling teenage artist of all time; the video for the single — a Lolita-like interpretation of teenage lust — pushed all the boundaries

Her debut album, Baby One More Time, released in 1999 when she was just 16, made her the best-­selling teenage artist of all time; the video for the single — a Lolita-like interpretation of teenage lust — pushed all the boundaries.

Her subsequent stratospheric rise and spectacular fall from grace is a modern parable about the ­perils of fame. You might not like her, but you can’t ignore her.

Now this book reveals a part of Spears that we have never really glimpsed. Pretty much every ounce of her flesh has been on display since she was a child. 

But here we see into her mind — and also, I think, her heart. 

It’s a peculiar ­combination of teenage diary and misery memoir, written in a blunt, almost matter-of-fact style by someone who often seems oddly detached from the narrative, as though observing herself from afar.

There’s a hardness to this version of Spears that I had not expected, an anger that seethes throughout, completely at odds with the giggly, girlish persona she so often ­portrays. 

She is succinct and to the point, business-like almost, even in her most explosive or ­emotional moments. 

There is ­surprisingly ­little self-pity. She is in many ways as tough on herself for her own failings as she is on others.

And it may come as some surprise — it certainly surprised me — to discover that she is very far from the slightly vacuous pop bimbo she was cast as for all those years. This Britney is as sharp as a tack, intuitive, highly perceptive. 

Jamie Spears, now 71, does not exactly cover himself in glory in this account. Indeed, it’s clear that so much of Britney’s psychosis over the years, her depression, her disastrous romantic relationships and, I dare say, her highly sexualised early image too — this half-child, half-sex-kitten thing — was informed by her father

Jamie Spears, now 71, does not exactly cover himself in glory in this account. Indeed, it’s clear that so much of Britney’s psychosis over the years, her depression, her disastrous romantic relationships and, I dare say, her highly sexualised early image too — this half-child, half-sex-kitten thing — was informed by her father

She has no illusions about the people in her life, or their motives. She knows exactly where she is in her head. And she’s taking no prisoners.

She was not, of course, always this way. By her own admission, she was a people-pleaser, someone who desperately wanted to be liked, loved and appreciated. 

Her father’s drunken rages, her mother’s bitterness and resentment, their lack of parental responsibility and general incompetence: it’s hard not to conclude that she grew up in an atmosphere of toxic chaos

Her father’s drunken rages, her mother’s bitterness and resentment, their lack of parental responsibility and general incompetence: it’s hard not to conclude that she grew up in an atmosphere of toxic chaos

It’s a trait a lot of women have in ­common. It’s partly a product of our conditioning, but in Spears’s case it was deeply rooted in her relationship with her father.

Ah, her father. Jamie Spears, now 71, does not exactly cover himself in glory in this account. 

Indeed, it’s clear that so much of Britney’s psychosis over the years, her depression (because she was, as she herself says, so often ‘in a dark place’), her off-beam behaviour, her disastrous romantic relationships and, I dare say, her highly sexualised early image too — this half-child, half-sex-kitten thing — was informed by her father.

Much of the publicity surrounding this book has focused on the more sensational revelations: her abortion aged 19, Justin Timberlake dumping her by text message, the public meltdowns, her own infidelities. 

But in fact the real meat is in what she reveals about him, as well as her relationship with her mother.

Reading about her early years, it’s impossible to see her family as ­anything other than deeply dysfunctional. Indeed, even without the huge pressures of pop stardom, the chances of Spears not going off the rails would have been slim.

Her father’s drunken rages, her mother’s bitterness and ­resentment, their lack of parental responsibility and general incompetence: it’s hard not to conclude that she grew up in an atmosphere of toxic chaos.

Waiting tables in a seafood ­restaurant, aged nine, to plug the gaps in the family’s finances; ­driving (and crashing the car) aged 13; drinking cocktails with her mother aged 14. It’s a litany of neglect.

One memory, to which she repeatedly returns, is of being scared to get in the car with her father because his behaviour was so erratic. 

She never felt safe around him, never felt the security and stability that she, like all ­children, craved.

That fundamental lack of ­emotional foundation meant that everything she achieved was, ­ultimately, built on sand, bound to come crashing down, as it inevitably did.

Like so many children of destructive parents, Britney ended up taking on the role of the parent herself very early on, before she was even into her teens. 

That fundamental lack of ­emotional foundation meant that everything she achieved was, ­ultimately, built on sand, bound to come crashing down, as it inevitably did. 

That fundamental lack of ­emotional foundation meant that everything she achieved was, ­ultimately, built on sand, bound to come crashing down, as it inevitably did

That fundamental lack of ­emotional foundation meant that everything she achieved was, ­ultimately, built on sand, bound to come crashing down, as it inevitably did

Just as her pop persona projected a ­disturbing combination of the childlike and the adult, in her real life she was also called to inhabit adult roles, to assume responsibility far too young.

Her precociousness — and ­ambition — was in large part a product of necessity. 

Her talent was her parents’ ticket to a better life, and the only part of their daughter the Spearses ever nurtured ­or encouraged.

To her mind, they treated her like some sort of pop Cinderella, her siblings enjoying the fruits of her labour while she sweated it out on stage night after night. Pictured: Britney with her father Jamie, brother Bryan, sister Jamie-Lynn and mother Lynne

To her mind, they treated her like some sort of pop Cinderella, her siblings enjoying the fruits of her labour while she sweated it out on stage night after night. Pictured: Britney with her father Jamie, brother Bryan, sister Jamie-Lynn and mother Lynne

And it worked. By the time she was 20 she had bought them a home, cleared her father’s debts (at one point he was declared bankrupt) and was funding a ­pampered, privileged upbringing for her brother Bryan and younger sister, Jamie Lynn.

If everything she says is true, there are no two ways about it: Mr and Mrs Spears came to regard their eldest daughter as little more than a cash cow from a very early age.

Jamie paid himself vast sums of her money; when she was at her lowest ebb her mother published a book about her. Not only do they come across as apparently indifferent to their daughter’s suffering, they also seemed to exploit it, capitalising on her weakness to line their own pockets.

Or, at least, that’s very much how Britney sees it. To her mind, they treated her like some sort of pop Cinderella, her siblings enjoying the fruits of her labour while she sweated it out on stage night after night.

And when the going got tough, they just got nasty; just kept ­milking her, down to the very last drops. ‘No matter how many fans I had in the world,’ she writes, ‘my parents never seemed to think I was worth much.’

And yet still, like all abused ­children who crave a few crumbs of comfort, she kept trying to win their approval, and in particular that of her absent, drunken failure of a father.

There she was, a bestselling artist, a global pop phenomenon, and all he could do was tell her she was too fat. 

‘Feeling like you’re never good enough is a soul-crushing state of being for a child,’ she writes. 

‘He’d drummed that message into me as a girl, and even after I’d accomplished so much, he was continuing to do that to me.’

Gaslighting on an industrial scale, fuelled no doubt by his own feelings of inadequacy, which ­culminated in Jamie eventually ­gaining full control over every aspect of his daughter’s life, from the medications she took — including lithium, which made her feel drunk and befuddled — to what contraception she used for 13 years. It’s clear that she feels ­violated, and when your read the stark details of the arrangement, it’s hard not to agree with her.

‘I became a robot,’ she writes. ‘But not just a robot — a sort of child-robot. I had been so infantilised that I was losing pieces of what made me feel like myself… 13 years went by with me feeling like a shadow of myself.

‘I think back now on my father and his associates having control over my body and my money for that long and it makes me feel sick…I didn’t deserve what my family did to me. 

‘I wanted a dad who would love me as I was — somebody who would say, ‘I just love you. You could do anything right now. I’d still love you with unconditional love.’ ‘

This desire to be loved, a desire never satisfied, inevitably plays out in her romantic relationships. 

The two most significant men in her life, Timberlake and Kevin Federline, her second husband (although she was married to her first for less than three days) and father to her two children, also failed her.

Timberlake cheated on her, ­allegedly pushed her into having an abortion, dumped her by a two-word text — and then made a bestselling single (Cry Me A River) slut-shaming her.

Timberlake cheated on her, ­allegedly pushed her into having an abortion, dumped her by a two-word text — and then made a bestselling single (Cry Me A River) slut-shaming her

Timberlake cheated on her, ­allegedly pushed her into having an abortion, dumped her by a two-word text — and then made a bestselling single (Cry Me A River) slut-shaming her

The backlash against her was phenomenal: at one point she recalls going to an LA Lakers game and the entire stadium ­booing her. 

And yet one of the most heartbreaking passages in the book is Chapter 13, the ­smallest and saddest little ­chapter you will ever read. Barely two pages long, it is a bittersweet eulogy to her love for him.

Federline was an even trickier piece of work. He already had one child and another on the way with his ex (all of whom he unceremoniously dumped) when he turned his attentions to a bruised, vulnerable Britney, clearly spotting his opportunity to piggy-back on her fame.

Arguably little more than a straightforward lothario, Federline is the one who finally drove her over the edge by taking her ­children — the youngest aged just five months — from her.

In both cases, she tried her hardest to create the perfect family she never had. She talks about her life with Timberlake (‘so in love with him it was pathetic’, always apologising for wanting to be happy), sharing a ‘gorgeous, airy two-­storey house with a tile roof and a swimming pool out back’ in Orlando, Florida.

After their split, she says how much she missed not just him but also his family. ‘Justin’s family had been the only real, loving family I had,’ she writes. ‘I thought of them as home. 

‘My mom would come out and visit us every once in a while, but she’s not who I went home to, ever.’ That bit really struck me; how she felt more at home with her ex-boyfriend’s ­relatives than her own.

With Federline, she turned a blind eye to his other family, to his partying, to his absurd pretentions, to the fact that he was clearly using her to further his own ambitions. 

As she admits herself, she was played. ‘That’s one thing Justin and Kevin ruined about me,’ she writes. ‘I used to trust people. But after the break-up with Justin and my divorce, I never really did trust people again.’

But I suppose ultimately the question is this: do we trust Britney? Do we trust this, her version of events? 

After all, she has spoken out before about certain moments, such as the infamous interview in 2003 with Diane Sawyer, which she claimed she was forced into doing by her father.

He, via his lawyer, denied any involvement, adding: ‘Mr Spears has no idea what Ms Spears is talking about. Jamie never set

up any interview with Diane Sawyer and was not present for any such interview.

‘He had nothing to do with Britney’s career at this point and was completely uninvolved in this interview. 

‘Jamie loves Britney very much, wishes Britney nothing but the best and hopes that she continues to seek the help that she needs to stay safe and healthy.’

Looking at her latest Instagram posts — a picture of her stark naked, another video in which she pulls her shorts down provocatively — it’s hard to know. 

‘Perhaps she does need help. She’s certainly not helping herself with these bizarre and disturbing behaviours.

The angry but often very clear-sighted woman who emerges from these pages feels very different to the hollow-eyed attention-seeker on my screen. 

‘The Britney of the book is full of self-knowledge, some might even say wisdom. Many of her experiences — those beyond the spotlight, that is — will ­resonate with her readers. But is this the real Britney?

I have a feeling we will never truly know. And the tragedy is that ­neither, perhaps, will she. But one thing I will say: if any of us had been what she’s been through, perhaps we too would be dancing with knives.

THE WOMAN IN ME by Britney Spears is out now (Gallery UK, £25)



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