The scene is London’s Sanctum Hotel in Soho; the revellers a mixture of D-list celebrities, journalists and money men. All eyes are on the surprisingly diminutive Britney Spears, who has a smile so tight it looks painful.
Glued to her side is her agent-turned-boyfriend Jason Trawick. They are surrounded by a phalanx of PR people, bodyguards, lawyers, management and record executives. No one else can get near. She is there to be looked at, like a rare animal in a cage.
With a new (far from sold out) tour, which arrived in the UK this week, the singer, who had a very public breakdown three years ago, is keen to spread the message that she is back. So she has been popping up on breakfast television and chatting away to the magazines.
‘I’m finding my whole click with life,’ is one bizarre phrase she keeps on trotting out.
After her excruciatingly public breakdown — shaving her head, being carted off to hospital and losing custody of her children (from her marriage to dancer Kevin Federline) — it is good to see her looking well again.
She is certainly back to earning millions. Her latest album went straight to the top of the Billboard charts in America. Last year alone she made ?30?million.
But all is still not well. When her life spiralled out of control in 2008 — drug and alcohol problems, bizarre affairs with photographers, and social services investigating claims she neglected her two young sons — Britney’s father, Jamie Spears, was awarded ‘conservatorship’ of her. This gave him full control of her affairs; conservatorships are normally handed out when an elderly person develops dementia or someone suffers from a brain injury.
The conservatorship was meant to be temporary, but her parents got a judge to agree to extend it indefinitely. And this year they made the case that the star — who has several lawsuits pending — is ‘mentally incapable’ of testifying.
One lawsuit involves a former bodyguard claiming $10?million (?7?million) for sexual harassment. Another involves her ex-manager Sam Lufti, who is suing the singer’s mother, Lynne, for defamation.
Back to earning millions: Britney's latest album went straight to the top of the Billboard charts in America
Unpleasant stuff, certainly. But then so are the rigours of going on tour. What Britney’s parents are saying is that while on the surface all is well with the former child star — certainly well enough for her to get back on the money-making treadmill — mentally she is still extremely fragile.
And while there have been rumours Britney is about to marry her boyfriend Jason, the truth is very different. Even if she wanted to marry, she can’t until she is mentally stable enough to not need a guardian — and who knows when that will be?
‘I can’t see them completely releasing her. I don’t think she’s capable of managing herself,’ says showbusiness writer George Rush. ‘Also they probably don’t want to lose control of the purse strings.’
It would be unfair to suggest the conservatorship is purely about money. Any parent will understand why Britney’s mother and father would want to step in to save her from herself. But the money factor is there — in staggering quantities.
In darker times: Britney with her ex-husband Kevin Federline in 2006
Earlier this month a claim for $900,000 (around ?500,000) in legal fees was put in front of the judge in charge of her case — just for sorting out the conservatorship.
That money will all come from Britney’s funds. No wonder she is still working so hard despite her troubles. ‘She does love performing,’ says one source close to the Britney camp, ‘but left to her own devices it’s highly unlikely she’d undertake the sort of commitments that her conservatorship has signed her on to.’
And there are signs she no longer enjoys the touring as she once did. It is almost a given she mimes throughout most of her performances — something she used to put down to her energetic dance routines. But even they have fallen by the wayside.
One fan who saw her perform in Dublin this week wrote on her blog: ‘The once sultry singer has somehow lost her rhythm — so much so that she was mostly wheeled around the stage on various items to cover this up.’ Others have written about an emptiness behind her eyes. No wonder there are still hundreds of tickets unsold for most of her gigs.
Britney herself does not have access to all the money she earns; she gets an allowance and has to ask her father for anything more. Indeed, every element of Britney’s life is tightly controlled.
‘Anyone she wants to socialise with has to be vetted by her dad,’ adds the source. ‘When she’s out she can’t even use the lavatory alone because her dad has hired a minder to follow her at all times. Even her boyfriend was essentially chosen by her parents.’
Jason was Britney’s agent just as her life started falling apart. A talented money man, he has been at the forefront of steering her back on to the straight and narrow. ‘He is showing Britney how to be a responsible adult and parent,’ says one friend. ‘And he has helped her get back on the road where she can make nearly $2?million a day if she’s healthy and on her A-game’.
Britney has admitted she would love to have another child and marry Jason, ‘when the time is right’. The problem is that time will not be down to her — but the people who run her life.