BAFTA-winning journalist Mobeen Azhar travels to the US to meet lawyers, super-fans and the people who know the global singing star, Britney Spears, best for a new BBC2 documentary, The Battle for Britney: Fans, Cash and A Conservatorship.
Mobeen, travels to Britney's hometown in Louisiana and to court hearings in Los Angeles, to delve into the battle between the singer, the loyal fans who have headed the #FreeBritney campaign and the conservatorship team who have controlled all her finances and her estate since her very public breakdown in 2008.
Here in an exclusive interview with us, Mobeen tells us why he was passionate about making the documentary, reveals the people close to Britney that he spoke to and what he discovered....
Why did you want to make the documentary The Battle for Britney?
Mobeen Azhar says: "Like a lot of people, over the past couple of years, I’ve become fascinated by the whole area of the Britney Spears’ conservatorship case. I wanted to do a deep dive into the whole #FreeBritney movement, the fan movement, but more pressingly into what the conservatorship means and what it means for Britney. There are all these competing theories online and I wanted to find out how many were rooted in reality because a lot of them seemed stranger than fiction."
What kind of things seemed stranger than fiction?
"Claims like Britney being called a prisoner, people suggesting that those around her are part of some kind of underground group like the Illuminati who are trying to control her. There’s also lots of stuff about Britney trying to share messages with her fans via her Instagram. One theory fans have is that she’s worn certain outfits on her Instagram from letters of the alphabet and that if you put all the posts together, they spell out 'Help Me'."
Can you explain what the conservatorship is and what it means for Britney?
"Britney is the subject of a probate conservatorship which means her entire estate can be managed by a third party and have funds removed from it. Even though in 2002, Forbes magazine said she was the most powerful celebrity in the world, and in more recent years she’s had albums that have sold and continue to sell very very well, she cannot spend her own money.
"She also doesn’t have autonomy in terms of meeting people and being able to travel. All that has to be okayed by the estate. What that means in a practical sense is she doesn’t have the liberties that a regular functioning adult in any civilised society has."
What was it like going to Britney’s hometown of Kentwood in Louisiana where she grew up?
"I was shocked by how tiny it was. I was there three days and I think I probably met everyone in the town twice. Everyone there has a Britney story. I’d bump into people at the petrol station and they’d say, ‘Oh yeah, I know Britney, she came to my school’ or ‘Oh yes, my cousin went out with her.’ The Spears family were church-goers so I went to the church too. I met a lady there who said, ‘It’s great that Britney’s had all this success, but all I really want is for her to be happy.’"
"I also visited the Museum of Kentwood, which is essentially a Britney tribute museum. The Spears family has donated her entire childhood bedroom which has been reassembled down to the duvet cover and all the posters on the walls."
Tell us about some of the fans you meet for the documentary. Were you taken aback by how intense and passionate some of them are about Britney?
“I spent quite a bit of time with the LA chapter. The #FreeBritney movement is divided into chapters. They were lovely people and it’s abundantly clear that they adore Britney and they’ve got her best interests at heart.
"What’s a bit spikier and a bit uglier is what I learnt when I meet people, like Brian Friedman, who’s been Britney’s choreographer and a long term friend of hers. Spending time with Brian it was really clear that there had been some serious damage done by fans who have gone too far. Brian himself has had multiple death threats from fans who interpreted a comment he once made about Britney’s dancing, as disrespectful."
You also speak to members of the paparazzi to get their perspective. What did they have to say?
“Yes, I spent a day with Rick Mendoza who took Britney’s pictures and followed her around for years. He was entirely uncompromising. His view was that when you have a public persona, you are public property. He also believes that Britney courted the paparazzi and got something from that relationship.
"There was the infamous shaving of the head incident. Straight away Rick said, ‘Why couldn’t she have done it at home? She wanted us to take pictures, she wanted it to be filmed.’ When I asked him to engage with the idea that Britney, in that period wasn’t well and it was evident she was having a breakdown, he didn't compromise or show any remorse."
What was the biggest challenge you faced making The Battle For Britney?
“I think the biggest challenge was ultimately understanding and getting a real handle on the facts of the conservatorship. I’m really pleased and really proud that we absolutely did that. Whether it’s Britney fans or people who are just interested in why she’s been in the press so much lately, I think what this film will do is provide a crystal clear understanding of who the players are, what the conservatorship is, and exactly why it’s so contentious.”
The Battle For Britney is available on BBC iPlayer from Saturday May 1 and will be shown on BBC2 on Wednesday May 5 at 9pm
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