How Britney Spears’ Father Controlled Her Circle of Friends
Beyond managing Britney Spears’ finances, medical care, and running her business with an iron grip—her father’s control over her life alienated her from once-close confidantes.
When Jamie Spears was appointed as his pop icon-daughter Britney Spears’ conservator in 2008, he wasted no time cleaning house, removing several longtime members of Britney’s team.
The move was initially seen as a protective father trying to rein in his “out of control” daughter. Spears’ life was quickly unravelling, with her losing custody of her two young sons to her ex-husband Kevin Federline in 2007. She was photographed out partying, infamously shaved her head (reportedly to avoid a positive drug test during the aforementioned custody battle), and got into a number of altercations with paparazzi who had been relentlessly harassing her.
Spears, then 26, was subsequently placed on an involuntary psychiatric hold following a January 2008 incident where she locked herself in a bathroom with her sons, refusing to come out.
After that harrowing episode, a Los Angeles judge granted Jamie an emergency temporary conservatorship over Spears. That October, the same judge decided to make the conservatorship permanent, appointing Jamie as Britney’s conservator, and making lawyer Andrew Wallet the co-conservator of her $60 million estate.
At a special hearing on Wednesday, Spears was finally free to speak openly about her conservatorship, delivering a heartbreaking account of what she endured over the past 13 years. She not only requested for Jamie to be removed from her conservatorship, but for it to be terminated. “I just want my life back,” she passionately told the judge.
Likening her situation to being sex-trafficked, Spears claimed her conservatorship team would not allow her to marry, nor grant her permission to have her IUD taken out so that she could have children.
“My dad and anyone involved in this conservatorship, including my management… they should be in jail,” she told the courtroom. “I haven’t done anything in the world to deserve this treatment. It’s not okay to force me to do anything I don’t want to do.”
Spears’ moving testimony mirrored a recent report in The New York Times that highlighted just how controlling Jamie could be over his adult daughter. When Spears wanted to freshen up her home, such as updating the color of her cabinets, Jamie allegedly refused to hand over her own money, saying it would be too expensive.
But beyond just overseeing Spears’ finances, her medical care, and running her business with an iron grip—Jamie’s control over Britney stretched even further. He reportedly wouldn’t even allow her to make friends without his say-so.
“I’m not able to see my friends that live eight minutes away from me, which I find extremely strange,” Spears said during the hearing. “He loved the control to hurt his own daughter. One hundred thousand percent.”
Looking back, the warning signs seemed to always be there. It should have first come with the sidelining of Spears’ longtime assistant, Felicia Culotta, who was hired by Spears’ mother Lynne days after the teen had signed her first record deal in 1998. The two were inseparable, with Culotta acting as a chaperone, staffer, and trusted confidante to Spears.
But when Spears began to spiral, Culotta could not sit idly by—making her concerns known to Spears’ wider team, including Jamie, and members of the press. The Louisiana native decided to briefly step away from Spears’ team in 2007 to work with The Jonas Brothers. When she returned to Spears’ team after the conservatorship was in place, she was demoted and effectively kept away from Spears.
“Once the conservatorship started my role changed,” Culotta said in Framing Britney Spears. “I gave backstage tours. When I went back it was a different business management and her dad was involved so they did not hire me, the touring company hired me.”
“I don’t know why the Britney company didn’t hire me, all I know is that maybe they didn’t know the role I played earlier,” she added. “So, I took a backseat, and I simply did what I was hired to do.”
Culotta was eventually pushed out entirely. While she wouldn’t say when she last spoke to Spears, she said she last worked with the singer in 2017, although later told US Weekly that she spoke regularly to her lifelong friend, Lynne Spears.
“I know at some point that she will tell her story. I know she will,” Culotta concluded in the documentary. “And I am so grateful for when that point comes, that she is able to sit down and, you know, everything will fall into place.”
Culotta did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
Next to be dropped from Spears’ orbit was her longtime backup dancer and choreographer Andre Fuentes, who had been with Spears since her Baby One More Time Tour in 1999. He helped choreograph Spears’ dance numbers in the music videos for “Womanizer” and “Circus,” plus numbers for Spears’ promotional Circus tour. He also made appearances in some of her music videos, including “I’m a Slave 4 U.”
But in late 2008, things went south. Although Spears’ longtime Emmy-winning choreographer Wade Robson had been named in press releases as working with Spears for her 2009 Circus tour, he was suddenly out. Instead, Jamie had been named in place of Robson. Fuentes, who died in 2016 at the age of 40, was also reportedly fired in the change-up.
It became a subtle trend—a rotating cast of people exiting her inner circle after a brief period, including hair stylists and dancers. The only constants on her team seemed to be those closest to Jamie Spears, such as her manager Larry Rudolph and publicist Jeff Raymond.
“Britney’s family has seen what happens when she gets too close to outsiders and they lose control, they don’t want it happening again,” a source close to Spears’ family said in 2009.
But in the wake of the #FreeBritney movement, her former staffers began to speak up in support of the singer, including her Circus hair-stylist George Papanikolas, backup singer Kiley Dean, and longtime dancers Sarah Mitchell and Brian Friedman.
Spears’ former backup singer Kelly Clinger took to Twitter following Spears’ testimony, describing how she worked with the pop star in 1999. She detailed how she resigned from the tour after she was assaulted. Still, she claimed to have stayed in touch with Spears for years afterwards.
“I saw a lot in those early years & maybe it’s about damn time the WHOLE BUNCH of us that witnessed the way she was treated used our voices for something other than hashtags,” she tweeted.
In 2008, when Spears was placed under psychiatric hold, Clinger claims she flew out to Los Angeles to be there for her friend. “It was clear that the circle around her was strong and impenetrable & that anyone who REALLY wanted to help her was not welcome,” she wrote. “That was the last time I tried to have any contact with her. From then on, everyone was cut out unless Jamie approved. Jamie didn’t approve of me.”
Last summer, Andrew Gallery, Spears’ in-house director and photographer, shared on TikTok a handwritten letter that he claims Spears gave to him to share years ago. “I’ve been seeing all this stuff about the #FreeBritney movement, and I feel compelled to say something about this now,” he said.
“I used to work with Britney back in 2008, 2009 during her comeback. In that time, we became close friends. We were on tour together, spent every day together for, you know, a while. And in that time, she gave me a letter that she wanted me to read to you guys.”
The odd letter, where Spears refers to herself in the third person, states, “No one knows the truth… She was lied to and set up. Her children were taken away and she did spin out of control which any mother would in those circumstances.”
Gallery appeared to be part of the crowd gathered outside of the Los Angeles courtroom where Spears’ hearing was held. “Wow,” he wrote on his Instagram story accompanied by a photo of the judge’s chamber. “Just wow. Britney finally gets a chance to speak and does she ever.”
It wasn’t just those who worked directly for Spears who were exiled from her circle. Former Extra producer Carlo De Santis claimed he had been “banned from ever working with” Spears in 2016 because he didn’t ask Jamie for permission to take a photo with Spears, who had consented to the picture. Spears was in Las Vegas for an interview with Extra host Mario Lopez, who seemed to confirm the interaction, commenting on De Santis’ post, “hahaha, I remember!”
According to photos from De Santis’ Instagram account, he had worked with Spears numerous times before and had a handful of behind-the-scenes pictures and videos with the pop star.
De Santis gave further clarification as to what happened on Wednesday, saying “just reminding y’all how truly evil and controlling that man is… This is what they do when you get too close to Britney,” he added. “[By the way] I was never told to not take a photo with her. Can’t wait for these people to be exposed.”
The tweet was accompanied by a screenshot of an email apparently sent by a member of Spears’ team. “Hey Carlo—as I mentioned before, her dad is very upset with you—it was not the set list (but that caught their eye)—it was when I asked you not to take a photo with her (Mario interview in Vegas) and then you asked her and then posted it. Therefore, he has banned you from being around her—backstage, etc,” it read.
“I am sorry, but I told you then that this is going to be a problem. I cannot approve you back there (or at interviews) and have her dad see you. I thought we talked about this,” it ended.
While the judge has not yet ruled on if Jamie would be fully removed from Spears’ conservatorship or if she would dismantle it entirely, Spears has pleaded to have her life back.
“I deserve to have a life,” she said in conclusion to her 24-minute statement. “I’m tired of feeling alone. I deserve to have the same rights as anybody does, by having a child, a family, any of those things, and more so.”