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About Tess Barker & Babs Gray
When Tess Barker and Babs Gray started comedically dissecting Britney Spears’ quirky social media on their podcast Britney’s Gram, they had no idea it would morph into something far greater. As the two dove into Britney’s online presence, they started to wonder how willing of a participant she was in her own life? Then they received a disturbing voicemail revealing that Britney had been placed in a mental health facility against her will. Tess and Babs courageously sounded the alarm on their podcast and social media. The response was massive and immediate, and overnight, and the #FreeBritney movement was born. Together with Britney’s loyal fans, Tess and Babs shined a much-needed light on the truth behind Britney’s conservatorship, ultimately helping the singer regain control over her own life.
Listen to the latest episode of All About Change as Tess and Babs dive into how a comedy podcast led to #FreeBritney activism, more details surrounding how Britney was kept in a conservatorship for so long, and conservatorship abuse in general.
Tess Barker: It was also like this very surreal moment of like,” Oh God, Britney Spears is in trouble. And I think we might have to do something to help her.”
Hi, I’m Jay Ruderman and welcome to All About Change: a podcast, showcasing individuals who leverage the hardships that have been thrown at them to better other people’s lives.
Jay VO: Greta Thunberg: This is all wrong. Simone Biles: I say put mental health first because… Leonardo DiCaprio: I stand before you, not as an expert, but as a concerned citizen.
Jay Ruderman: In each episode, we bring you in depth and intimate conversations about activism, courage, and change.
Barbara Gray: we didn’t think about how it was gonna affect, you know, the entertainment. We didn’t know.
Jay Ruderman: Today on our show, Tess Barker and Babs Gray: writers, comedians, podcasters, and Free Britney activists.
Barbara Gray: I really doubt that a man in Britney’s situation would’ve ended up in a conservatorship, ended up in a situation where people said, “You know what? Her dad should come in and take over all of her [00:01:00] civil rights.” That would not happen to a man.
Jay Ruderman: What started as two friends, comedically dissecting Britney Spear’s quirky social media on their podcast, morphed into something much bigger. As the two dove deeper into Britney’s online presence. They started to wonder how willing a participant was she?
Tess Barker: Intuitively we were touching on that there was something going on with her and her life and her situation, but we didn’t know quite what it was yet.
Jay Ruderman: Then, they received a voicemail that revealed that Britney was being held against her, will at a mental health facility.
Voicemail: hi there. Um, I cannot disclose who I am. Um, I just heard the latest episode you guys are onto something. Um, I used to be a paralegal for an attorney that worked, um, with Britney’s conservatorship. I am no longer with them. Um, and what is happening is disturbing to say the least Britney has been in [00:02:00] the, um, in the mental facility since mid-January, um, of course the, the statement yesterday said she entered last week. That is not true. She’s been in there since mid January. Um, and there is no timeline. Uh, granted I’ve been gone. I, I haven’t worked at the company or at the, at the firm for, uh, about a little over two weeks now, but there is no end, particularly in sight for this stay at this mental facility to, um, to end. Uh, she did not want to go. She, um, I, I, I, of course, uh, I’m just a paralegal. I haven’t had any contact with her, but, um, but what I understand this was, uh, not a decision she made at [00:03:00] all.
Jay Ruderman: They courageously sounded the alarm on their podcast and social media. The response was overwhelming and the Free Britney movement was born. I think this is a really important movement. Not only because it provided the public pressure needed to free one pop icon, but because it also shed a light on conservatorship abuse.
Tess Barker: When you were placed into a conservatorship, you are essentially de-personed in the eyes of the law. So the law essentially takes away the civil liberties that you have as an adult citizen in this country.
Jay Ruderman: Tess and Babs. Thank you so much for joining me. How did you decide to start a podcast following, Britney Spears’ Instagram?
Barbara Gray: We have a podcast called Lady to Lady. That’s been like a long run comedy podcast. We were actually at a comedy festival, talking about Britney’s Instagram posts because we just found them super fascinating and we thought, Hey, why don’t we start a podcast about her Instagram as kind of like a joke niche podcast?
Tess Barker: Yeah. I think [00:04:00] originally the idea was that the comedy from the show was gonna come from us, taking something that we thought was pretty uneventful or pretty banal I guess in Britney spears’ Instagram, and taking it super seriously. Like that was what we envisioned the sort of crux of the comedy of the show being. And of course, I think in hindsight, we were really interested in Britney’s Instagram because there was clearly like a certain je-ne-sais-qoui going on there. And so I think sort of intuitively we were touching on that there was something going on with her and her life and her situation, but we didn’t know quite what it was yet.
Jay Ruderman: But from listening to you, on the podcast, it was clear to me that, in addition to thinking that her posts were interesting, you really liked her.
Tess Barker: Oh, definitely. We both love Britney. I’ve been a Britney fan since I was a teenager. She’s always been one of my favorite artists. She’s a celebrity that I’ve always looked up to for how down to earth she seems and how, how unabashedly herself. She’s always been.
Barbara Gray: Definitely. We were always coming to it from a place of love and admiration This was really the way that she seemed to be communicating [00:05:00] with the world. So it was a fun way for us to kind of analyze a person who we really adored and kind of this method of communication.
Britney’s Gram: Hello and welcome to Britney’s Graham, the happiest place on the internet. I’m Barbara Gray. I’m Tess Barker and uh, oh my goodness. about her posts, drew you or drew her fans and what was it about her that, people just fell in love with?
Barbara Gray: It’s just so enigmatic, she’s, this super famous person and just how like easy going and cool she seemed via her Instagram posts.
Tess Barker: It was this weird sort of duality that was going on, where she was posting these kind of like mom memes, I guess, for lack of a better word. But at the same time, we were aware that she was in a conservatorship. And so we were always, I think, viewing her situation through that lens.
So at the same time we just have these questions, you know, she’s always alone in house. You never see her hanging out with other people. You don’t really see her out and about in the world. Very much. So for someone who was posting these very candid kind of like snapshots of her [00:06:00] life, you’d never really saw her outside of this sort of really restricted setting.
And then she would post things that I think if your friend from high school posted, wouldn’t think much of, you know, she posted a meme that said, “Let me shop and no one gets hurt.” But when you have the information that she’s lost, complete control over her own finances and the money that she’s been earning, it sort of takes on this other subtext. And so I think that was what we found so, I guess fascinating.
Jay Ruderman: Let me take you to the announcement of her Vegas residency, I guess the second Vegas residency. And you guys dissected that and then at what point did you realize there’s something going on here?
Barbara Gray: You know, there are definite like moments you can pinpoint as far as how this whole story’s unraveled that were big moments. And I think that that was definitely one of them in realizing that she seemed extremely uncomfortable and just she did not want to be there. I mean, you could tell on her face, like this was the last place on earth she wanted to be.
[00:07:00] And, we were already paying very close attention. So when that happened, it just really peeked our interest even further, as far as like what’s happening behind the scenes here.
Tess Barker: Yeah, it seemed sort of like an act of protest.
Barbara Gray: Mm-hmm.
Tess Barker: Really, because what, yeah. I mean, for those, for anyone who hasn’t seen it, it was like this huge production in Vegas with helicopters and fireworks and, and things projected onto buildings and this huge buildup for Britney to come.
She arrived really late to this event, came up on a stage, and didn’t say like, one sentence. She didn’t say, “Hey guys, I’m so excited. Thank you for being…” No kind of canned nothing. She just walked off the stage about three seconds after she came up on this platform. Immediately, walked through a crowd and then got into a car and was driven off. So it felt like a really intentional form of protest on her behalf.
Jay Ruderman: I guess there was a line that people could call into and leave messages and feedback. And at what point did you set that up?
Barbara Gray: That was the fun of the show was that the people who were into it, they got the game, which was like, let’s take this too seriously. People would [00:08:00] call in to dissect her emojis and just do the kind of silly things that we were also doing and talking about on the show.
I think we set it up pretty early to start playing a few at the end of each episode.
Jay Ruderman: At one point you get a message that’s I guess, three minutes long and one of you was listening to it late at night and called the other and that sort of really shocked you.
Britney’s Gram: Hello everyone. And welcome to Britney’s Graham we’re here. As you’ve already found out, this is a special emergency episode. This is a special emergency episode. We are dropping it early. Um, We usually come out on Thursday mornings, but we decided that this couldn’t wait, basically. Yeah. Uh, this is, this is a big deal, guys.
I hope that wherever you are, you’re somewhere that you’re able to receive some big information and feel a lot of things and have your mind blown. pretty much. Yeah, we, um, we basically, we gotta, you know, we have a hotline people call in, they leave us messages. We got a voicemail from an anonymous source, uh, that we have verified worked as a paralegal and an office involved in Brittney’s conservatorship.
I don’t know how you could [00:09:00] listen to this podcast and not be absolutely outraged, regardless of your opinion of Britney Spears as an artist or a person, or, I mean, This is completely a violation of someone’s rights and we’ve got to do the right thing. Yeah. And we’re here to . Yeah. So we’re gonna keep, I mean, we’re not, we’re not gonna stop until she’s okay.
Yes. So our, our goal and, you know, we don’t know what the next step is, as far as getting her out, that’s what we have to figure out. Obviously we need, you know, we’resomebody needs legally to step on. Uh, it’s been said in the past that to get out of it. She would have to use money, but she doesn’t have access to her money.
So we don’t know how that works. Basically. We’re just putting out there right now. The step is putting on the public pressure and getting out as much as possible. And from there, hopefully the next steps can be taken to get her, A, get her out of the mental institution and, B, able to speak for herself. We wanna hear from Brittany, we have not heard from her at all.
You know, she’s been put away. We, we need to like, make sure she’s okay. You hear from her own mouth what’s [00:10:00] going on? Well, we know she’s whatever. In this ideal future. Yes. Yeah. Yeah. Uh, also we should say our hotline is still open if you are hearing this. And this is you’re also someone who has some information about what’s going on with Britney Spears over the last 11 years, please give us a call.
You can absolutely remain anonymous. 8 1 8 9 2 5 0 0 0 8. I’m gonna repeat that again. Go ahead and put it with your tweets and everything too. 8 1 8 9 2 5 0 0 0 8. We will be checking that regularly. Tweet Instagram, do this. We gotta get this out there. Yeah, put this everywhere. The graphic is on our Instagram right now.
It’s on our Twitters. Brittany’s gram. You’re gonna find it easily. Share the shit, share the episode. Uh let’s let’s get her out free, Brittany free. Brittany. We love you, Britney. We love you Brit. Also, one more thing. If Sam hears this, just tell Britney that her fans don’t think she’s crazy. We don’t think she’s crazy.
We believe her. We believe in her. We are here for her. We. Whatever she does. She has our full support and we know that she can get through this if anybody has any kind of line into her. Yeah. We [00:11:00] think Sam has to be the closest. So she, he apparently goes to visit her every day. So yeah. We’re hoping that he can tell her that this is going on and give her a line out, basically.
Yeah. Okay. Love you, Brett. Bye bye.
Tess Barker: So, a little context, what had happened is she announced that Vegas residency that was in, I think, October of 2018. In January of 2019, she posted on her Instagram that she was then canceling that three-year engagement and that she was doing it in order to take care of her father, who we knew she had sort of a fraught relationship with.
Then paparazzi photos surfaced of her going through a drive through at In-N-Out looking like happy with her boyfriend. And then she completely disappeared. There were no paparazzi photos, nothing on her Instagram, nothing was going on with Britney for three months. So for like three months on the podcast, we were like, “Where is she?”
Like, we called it “the britney shut down” because it was like, where is Britney? So that had sort of been going on.
Barbara Gray: And then, at the same time, we were also looking at her legal situation. So it was like the, both she [00:12:00] disappeared and there was like, you know, actual digging into the conservatorship legal files.
Tess Barker: Yeah. Yeah. And then, there was a press release put out, I think, to the Hollywood reporter or something that Britney had checked herself into a mental institution that week. And then she posted on her Instagram or somebody posted on her Instagram.
“Sometimes you just need a little me time.” And that was the first post that had been on the account for like three months. So literally, I remember driving when that post came. Immediately grabbing my podcast equipment and going to Babs’ house. Cause it was like, what is going on? And on that podcast, we had been having this discussion of, I, I just knowing what we know about her legal situation, knowing how long she’s been missing.
I don’t think that she, A, checked herself into a mental institution and, B, that it happened this week. So we put out that podcast. And then I was editing the podcast for the following week and yeah, we always put the little voicemails at the end and the show had started to get a little bit more popular.
So we had more voicemails and I thought that’s probably enough for this episode. And that’s when I noticed one that was longer than the rest of ’em. And so I thought, oh, I’ll just [00:13:00] listen to this one real quick and it was a person who was a paralegal for an office associated with Britney’s conservatorship who told us that Britney had been in fact in a mental institution against her will since January.
And that there was no plans for her to get out on any sort of timeline. And it was the most, I think probably the most chilling thing that’s ever happened to me. It was like, time slowed down. I felt nauseous. My husband was just like watching Sports Center in the living room and I just came out all shaken cuz it was a confirmation I think of a lot of things that we’ve been worried about, but it was also like this very surreal moment of like,” Oh God, Britney Spears is in trouble. And I think we might have to do something to help her.” It was very surreal.
Jay Ruderman: So, can you talk about the sort of ethical dilemma, because I know you talked about this on your podcast about what do we do? What was the process that you guys went through in trying to figure out what to do?
Barbara Gray: We talked more to the source who called us and made sure he was legit talked to some friends about legal advice as far as [00:14:00] like putting this information out there and if we could get in trouble, we kind of just tried to like gather our thoughts, but we knew we needed to put it out.
I mean, we didn’t think about how it was gonna affect, you know, the entertainment. We didn’t know. We had felt a real sense of urgency that like, This woman has been held against her will in this place for a few months.
And they’re pretending she’s okay. Doesn’t seem like she’s okay. And we need to put this info out there. So I think once we kind of like confirmed things on our end and, and felt as good as we could going forward, we just went for it and released the episode.
Jay Ruderman: And after that episode is released what was the reaction to that?
Tess Barker: It was a sea change in terms of Britney Spears fanship, in terms of the entertainment industry, in terms of pop culture. I mean, we intentionally because we are comedians and, and I think pretty savvy in terms of social media and stuff like that. We did make the intentional decision to release the episode in the middle of the night, because our thought was that maybe it would catch on and get too big for her team to do anything And that’s sort of what happened by, I think, seven or eight [00:15:00] o’clock in the morning. It was everywhere. Everyone was tweeting about it.
Britney’s mom had started liking posts about free Britney. She posted sort of like a religious meme that seemed to be a reference to free Britney. So that was very validating.
It was like, okay, this is confirmation. I think that we’ve tapped into something. We got contacted fairly soon after that, by other people who were close to Britney who also corroborated the stuff that we had heard. It was crazy.
Jay Ruderman: Let’s talk about the, conservatorship Most people didn’t know what it was. So maybe you can talk about what it is and, what you came to learn about it.
Tess Barker: We had become more interested in Britney’s case even prior to that happening. I had read the New York times wrote an article in 2016 sort of questioning whether Britney needed to be in a conservatorship. So I was aware that she was in a situation where her civil liberties were restricted and where her access to her finances were restricted.
But I called the National Association Against Guardian Abuse and they kind of gave me more details about exactly what a conservatorship entails. They’re called different things from state to state, but essentially what happens in the conservatorship is somebody decides [00:16:00] that a person is incapable of making decisions for themselves, personal decisions, financial decisions, decisions about who they can visit in their healthcare and things like that. And the court appoints someone called a conservator and essentially hands over all of that person’s civil liberties. To that other person. So that other person now has the authority to decide where they can go, what doctors they’re gonna see, whether they can go to the grocery store, who can call them.
And then, additionally, if they’re in a financial conservatorship, then there’s also somebody who then has access to all of their bank accounts, have access to what happens with all of their real estate. If they own property can sell, it can do whatever they want.
So when you were placed into a conservatorship, you are essentially de-personed in the eyes of the law. So the law essentially takes away the civil liberties that you have as an adult citizen in this country.
Jay Ruderman: We think of guardianship or conservatorship as something that people who are very elderly maybe going through dementia or Alzheimer’s, it’s placed on them to help them live their lives. But Britney is young [00:17:00] and famous and successful and working and making a lot of money for a lot of different people. How does this happen to Britney Spears?
Barbara Gray: She was in a really unique situation where she’s in a conservatorship and actively working and making money, which is generally not the case at all. What happened was in 2007, 2008, when the tabloids were all over her and she was going through a public divorce and things like that. There were a few incidents with like, her kids and custody things, and she got 5150’d once and then a month later she got 5150’d again.
And we found out that actually the second 5150 was planned days in advance and that this conservatorship had started to be planned. And so, they took her and it all happened in one weekend. She went into a hospital one weekend and by that Monday, all of her rights, her dad essentially became her.
They got an emergency hearing, which shouldn’t be generally used for something like that. You know, these, hearings are meant for somebody who’s literally like on the brink of death or it ‘ s an extremely serious [00:18:00] situation. And, from all the things we learned, there was nothing serious going on that night at her house, no reason for police ambulance all these people to show up and strap her onto a gurney and take her away. It did not seem like an emergency of any kind, but they treated it like that. And then put her in this conservatorship, which also, you know, we’ve learned a lot about conservatorships and there’s different kinds.
Probate conservatorship is the kind that she’s in which generally deals more with the money and is, you know, often for people who are older and an LPS conservatorship, which is a mental health conservatorship, and those are generally supposed to be one year so that you can see, maybe that they’ll get better, they can get out of it in a year. But probate, they call them lifetime basically conservatorships because they’re not really meant to be ended. So she was put into a lifetime conservatorship.
Jay Ruderman: For those listeners that don’t know, what is a 5150?
Tess Barker: It’s an involuntary, psychiatric hold. It’s instituted usually when someone is presenting a clear danger to themselves or someone else. We spoke to an attorney on our podcast Toxic about this 5150 hold. [00:19:00] And her view was that it’s not really something that can or would be planned by the police because normally it’s a truly emergent situation or someone possibly has a weapon or is threatening someone quite urgently and needs law enforcement to come and take them out of that situation. That was not the case with Britney.
Jay Ruderman: If you watch the videos they’re horrifying. There’s like 50 paparazzi trying to photograph her. I know a lot of people in the entertainment world have paparazzi, but it seemed obscene. I don’t know any person that could go through that on a daily basis. The way she was being treated, it struck me as just cruel.
Tess Barker: Especially when you consider she was a young mom. She was only 26 years old when this happened. So I don’t know how a 26 year old who doesn’t have two young kids deals with that level of fame and that level of harassment by the paparazzi. I mean, imagine as a young mom trying to keep their babies safe and you’re being pursued by a gaggle of men who aren’t respecting your personal space, who are probably driving recklessly, who are flashing photographs, that you haven’t consented to be taken of yourself.
And this was [00:20:00] happening to her from the time she woke up in the morning to the time she got back to her house at night, they were following her everywhere she went.
Barbara Gray: I mean yeah. It’s, you know, there’s no question, you look at it. And I really doubt that a man in Britney’s situation would’ve ended up in a conservatorship, ended up in a situation where people said, “You know what? Her dad should come in and take over all of her civil rights.” That would not happen to a man. We’re in this age now where we kind of look back and say like, oh my God, how was she treated this way? But it was very easy to infantalize someone like Britney Spears. You know, she’s beautiful, she’s a pop star, she’s blonde. And I think also she didn’t act the way that people wanted her to act.
She was very from a small 10 Louisiana, you know, she went barefoot, she wore what she wanted and that was not like what they were asking for from her. So therefore she had to be punished and I think it was extremely sexist, what she went through and I mean continues to go through, but no question in my mind that if you know, she was a man, I don’t think we would be [00:21:00] looking at the situation at all.
One big discovery we made when we were making our podcast was that there is something called a capacity declaration. And that’s the piece of paper that basically you have to show the judge to conserve somebody.
You have to get their doctor to sign a declaration saying they don’t have the capacity to take care of themselves. And that was never filed in Britney’s case – ever. Not once in 13 years did they actually get that piece of paper? So that was something that was discovered just last year.
Jay Ruderman: Jamie Spears, her father didn’t really have a tremendous amount of success at anything that he was doing in his life. And, in fact, took a loan shortly before the conservatorship, from Lou Taylor and then Lou Taylor becomes Britney’s business manager in the conservatorship.
But what were the qualifications that Jamie Spears had to become a conservator of his daughter who was one of the most successful musicians on the planet?
Tess Barker: I think that’s another really horrifying aspect to this story is, he was granted, not only control of all her personal decisions, [00:22:00] but also her finances. He had a history of going into bankruptcy, a history of just poor financial management. From our vantage point, I don’t think he had any real qualifications there. And then, in terms of taking over her personal life, at the time that Britney was placed in this conservatorship by Jamie Spears, Jamie Spears was estranged from Britney.
Britney had instructed her security not to allow this man in her house. And he essentially broke into her house, a few days before he had her involuntarily detained without her permission and totally violated her consent in terms of who she wanted in her house. So to Babs’ point about the infantalizing, I think that it speaks to our society’s tendencies towards paternalism. That basically just a guy stepped in and was granted complete control over someone else, just because he the dad of a woman who is being severely infantilized.
Jay Ruderman: There’s a lawyer, Andrew Wallet, who’s also a conservator. Can you talk about t he role that he played, because I, you know, once it started, it seemed like it was in the financial interest of the [00:23:00] conservators to keep it going.
Barbara Gray: He was there from the beginning. He was the co-conservator with Jamie. Basically, it kind of became like Andrew dealt with the finances and Jamie kind of dealt with the personal. Andrew wallet was, along for the ride for a very long time. In late 2018, he asked for a big raise and that’s the first hearing that Tess went to to see in person and that’s kind of when we really started getting deep into it. He asked for a raise of half a million dollars a year. And that’s when we were like, “What? Like, why is this guy making so much money off of this? This is ridiculous.” And then he quit four months later. So we’re like, this guy just asked for a huge raise and he quits out of nowhere.
That just gave us more information basically to point out how wrong the conservatorship was because at one point he called it a “hybrid business model,” and this is about something that’s supposed to be helping someone live their life and not be a business model of any kind.
Jay Ruderman: At one point, Britney has a meeting with Adam Streisand, who she wants to be her lawyer, and he comes into the court to the [00:24:00] conservatorship and the judge basically says, “Hey, you don’t have capacity, Britney, to hire a lawyer.”
And it seems like such a gross violation of due process. I mean, we all grow up saying, oh, you’re arrested by the police or something happens. You end up in court, you have a right to a lawyer.
Tess Barker: Once Brittany was detained that weekend in 2007, she’s truly detained in a hospital room that she can’t leave. So jamie spear says to the court, this is an emergency. I need a hearing right now. And, normally when a person is going to be conserved there’s due process and they should receive notice that this hearing is going to take place so that they can come and speak for themselves.
Jamie Spears convinces the judge that Britney doesn’t need notice, nor does she need to be at this hearing. So Britney isn’t at this hearing, but she has a meeting with this attorney. That’s like, yeah, I want you to be my lawyer. So Adam Steisand, that lawyer that she had the meeting with shows up to court on Monday while Britney is still detained in the hospital and says, “Hey, I’ve spoken with Britney. She wants to hire me. I’d like to represent her.” Samuel Ingham. The lawyer who the court had appointed says, “Oh, I also talked to Britney this weekend and I don’t think she has the capacity to decide who should be [00:25:00] her lawyer. So this guy can’t be it. It’s gonna be me.” And the judge says, “Yeah, sounds good. Get outta here, Adam Streisand.”
Jay Ruderman: So the the court goes along with it and Ingham continues to be her lawyer and this some question as you, mentioned, like, does he have her best interest at heart? but he’s making a lot of money off I think it’s $10,000 a month to serve in this position
Tess Barker: A week.
Jay Ruderman: Sorry. Wow. That’s a lot of money.
And why do you think the court is allowing all of this to happen and not give her a voice? As you said, there’s no medical do cumentation as to what her condition is at this time. It seems like as an outsider, as a money grab. Why does our court system go along with this and why don’t they see through it?
Barbara Gray: I think sexism plays into it, but we heard a lot that like, they listened to kind of like the loudest voice or they listened to the person who seems to tell the best story almost. And Britney, wasn’t there to defend herself. No one was in court on her behalf. And, you know, they were also using the excuse that she’s being [00:26:00] manipulated by other people. We need to take care of her cuz outsiders are invading her. So they were saying that, Britney Spears is being manipulated by other people and we have to save her.
Tess Barker: I don’t think you can underestimate just how saturated in the media Britney Spears was at this point in history. I mean, this was pre-Twitter, pre-Instagram.
There wasn’t this like wide breath of all these celebrities that everybody was kind of paying attention to different genres and music and stuff.
What was going on with Britney Spears was on the nightly news every night in Los Angeles. She was on the cover of every magazine. She was on every blog. Her and the hard times she was going through were at the forefront of the American consciousness. So I think the judge was also living in that society and seeing those things, seeing the picture that was being painted of her by the media.
And I think, in second part, I think Britney Spears was sort of unequivocally failed by that judge. I don’t know whether it was corruption or just negligence, but I think unequivocally, the judge just failed to protect Britney Spears in that [00:27:00] situation.
Jay Ruderman: Britney eventually goes back on tour…
Tess Barker: mm-hmm
Jay Ruderman: …and does a tremendous amount of shows and has put through a very strenuous, work schedule. What was her role in this? What were they holding over her to make her do this? And why wasn’t she, at one of her concerts, just speaking out saying, “Hey, you know, I’m being held against my will and this isn’t right. And, I want this to stop.”
Tess Barker: Her kids.
Barbara Gray: Yeah her children. Her dad would use her kids. Hold your kids over her head and say, basically, if you act up, then you know you’re not going to see your kids.
Jay Ruderman: But I understand there’s also, there was an incident where Jamie Spears, her father threatened the kids and, her ex-husband Kevin Federline took out a restraining order against Jamie Spears during this process.
Tess Barker: That was much more recently that happened in, I think 2019, I wanna say spring or early summer of 2019. For a long time, previous to that happening, it was actually, a function of the conservatorship that Britney couldn’t be around her kids unless Jamie was there [00:28:00] to supervise. So while that was happening, Britney was visiting with her kids with Jamie there to quote- unquote supervise. Jamie engaged in what appears to be a domestic violence incident against her oldest son and Britney got the kids out of there safely, took them back over to Kevin’s house, but that ended up in her losing more custody of her kids. And then, yeah, Kevin Federline filed on the kid’s behalf, filed a restraining order against Jamie.
Jay Ruderman: So also outside the court, there’s this growing Free Britney movement, which you guys helped spark and, and elevate. But can you talk about this growing movement that was happening outside the court system? That was actually probably influencing the court system.
Barbara Gray: We released that free Britney episode. And then we actually held a rally in West Hollywood, the first Free Britney rally. And she did get let out of the mental hospital where she was a week later, I wanna say so.
Tess Barker: A couple days later, yeah.
Barbara Gray: Yeah. A couple days later. So we, all we knew with releasing it was that public pressure would probably be the only thing that would change [00:29:00] or help the situation. And it seemed like, oh, wow, we actually saw something happen already. You know, she got out. Thank God. Her fans and a lot of people who just heard about the situation were just disgusted with the fact that we’ve been all watching this woman work for years and years and that she has no access to any of the money that she earns, That she’s has no rights. So I think the more people learned about it, the more, you know, pissed off people got and they joined in. There started being rallies, basically, at every one of her hearings and, it grew and grew and the media started paying attention. Then, I think, New York times presents Framing Britney Spears on Hulu in february of 2020, right? Or 2021? 2021.
Tess Barker: Mm-hmm.
Barbara Gray: That really, took it to the next level because people were calling it a conspiracy theory a little bit before that. Her dad was trying to regard it as that. And then once the general public really saw the truth about what was going on, you know, that kind just legitimized it further.
Tess Barker: Yeah. A t every hearing one of us was inside the courtroom. On several [00:30:00] occasions you would be like in the court where these hearings had happened behind closed doors for so many years. And you could literally hear people outside chanting “Free Britney” while the proceedings were going on.
The first hearing that I went to the audience was virtually empty. Nobody was really paying attention to what was going on. And, by the time Britney spoke out in court, there would be lines of reporters and people wanting to come look at this hearing. So it became undeniable that eyes were on them and that there was gonna have to be some accountability.
Jay Ruderman: We mentioned the taking over of this, media empire and, and the finances, but there was much more to it. There was the drugging, I mean, that she was forced to take, medicine that she did not want to take, that she was forced to use birth control that she did not want to use.
Barbara Gray: You know, there’s so many disturbing aspects about this, but I think when she spoke out about the IUD and how they wouldn’t allow her to take it out, I mean, that was just heartbreaking. And so beyond what should be allowed. It did take over her, personal life, you know, they, the conservatorship was in charge of who she got to see, she had [00:31:00] to get permission to like see her boyfriend. Every aspect of her life was controlled.
Tess Barker: One hearing, she spoke about how they were not allowing her to have a cup of coffee. It was, an abusive level of control over things that she could or couldn’t consume. And then yeah, forced use of antipsychotic medicine, lithium, which is a very, can be a very toxic drug and can have some really severe side effects. And, and they were forcing her to take that against her will.
Jay Ruderman: Since this is developing into a huge story with, a lot of powerful people involved. How did you feel at the time? Did you feel threatened? Did you feel scared?
Tess Barker: Yeah.
Barbara Gray: Yeah, it was it was terrifying. It was extremely scary the entire time. And once we put that podcast out there, we were very exposed. And, the New York Times has made a second part to their documentary, which I definitely recommend everyone watches called Controlling Britney Spears.
And that was all about the controls she was under. And that documentary revealed that they had dossiers on us and other members of the Free Brit ney movement, so we were freaked out. We did like feel [00:32:00] honestly like we were being followed or watched and kind of scared at times.
And, you know, we’re in the entertainment industry, we’re poking a big bear and, standing up for something And there was always just this driving force of like, You gotta keep going. Like she, there’s someone who really doesn’t have a voice and I think needs other people to be her voice at this time.
Tess Barker: We didn’t think about it before releasing the episode, but it became really apparent really quickly, like, oh, we have, there’s a lot of people making a lot of money off of this situation and we have potentially just disrupted that situation and it was really scary.
Jay Ruderman: It’s a tremendous and the role, the role that both of you played. Not only in social justice, but, the risks to your own careers. I think one of you, I can’t remember which one told the story about someone actually saying to them you’re done in this town, which seems so cliche, but that, that actually happened, right?
Barbara Gray: Yeah, we got threatened and somebody who did not want us to poke around, said yeah, threatened us and said, you’re never [00:33:00] gonna work in this town again. And , it was extremely….
Tess Barker: And that’s And someone who like, in, in the interim, I’ve had professional situations come up where I’m like, oh, oh, that person is involved. So that’s a bridge that I’ve burned. Okay. Cool.
Jay Ruderman: Yeah,
Barbara Gray: I also think at the same time we were the right people to pursue it because were not in music.
We are comedians. We have our own outlet. We don’t work for a newspaper or a magazine where a lot of times the journalists we talked to, the deal would be like, yeah, you can interview Brittany, but it has to be softball basically. Nobody’s asking about the conservatorship. Not that anybody was really questioning at the time. Cause people didn’t really like, think about what was going on, but, we didn’t have to worry about her PR team not giving us access to another person or something like that. So I do think that we were just, in the right place, at the right time, you know, and the right people to do it.
Jay Ruderman: So I wanna take you to a very emotional moment where all of the lawyers are, they’re all on zoom, and she speaks for 23 minutes. And it’s the first time that Britney has been heard [00:34:00] in a long time. What happened and what it was like for you?
Tess Barker: I first wanna preface this by saying that everything that she said that day in June, she had actually said two years prior to a judge. This was the first time the public had heard this, but again, to the testament of the power of public pressure, this was the first time that, A, Britney I think had felt empowered to say, “Hey, leave the court room open.”
But, B, it wasn’t that the judge felt so compelled by what she was saying that she understood something was wrong was happening the first time. But the second time obviously affected some change, Britney had requested a hearing through her then attorney Sam Ingham, and she told the judge that she wanted to address the court as soon as possible.
So they gave her a hearing, I think two months after that happened. So we knew that this hearing had been called at Britney’s request.
So there was a lot of, kind of buzz around what was gonna happen the day before that had happened. Britney, we now know from a Ronan Farrow piece, that Britney had actually gone to the police to try to report herself as a victim of conservatorship abuse.
So we had seen some photos of her at a police station, ostensibly trying to get help. But we had been to so many of these hearings and what normally happens is by [00:35:00] default, all court proceedings are open, right? That’s our public right to be able to observe court proceedings, but you can close or seal a courtroom proceeding if medical information is gonna be discussed, or if there’s some kind of reason what children are involved, or some reason that the public does not have the right to access this information.
Normally, what would happen at Britney’s hearings is, one of the lawyers, it would start out open and there’d be reporters in there watching the hearing. But, one of the lawyers, would, at the top of the hearing, say, “Your honor, we’re gonna discuss proprietary information that has to do with Britney’s medical records that has to do with her business secrets. So, because of that, we request that this hearing be sealed.” And the judge would almost always say, “You’re right, everyone out, this is gonna be a sealed hearing.” Even though there was all this buzz around this hearing that Britney had requested and all that, we were fully anticipating that the hearing was gonna be closed. Got into the courtroom, they start to do that song and dance. One of the lawyers says, “Your honor, I think we should close this hearing. It’s gonna be sensitive.” And Britney literally cut off that attorney. And said, ” No, these people have been exploiting me for long enough. I think I’m gonna keep the courtroom open.” And it was, it was just an incredible [00:36:00] moment.
I mean, it was like, because I don’t think anyone had told her that she even had that option. Like, it was just such a moment of her asserting her voice and her refusing to stand for this abuse anymore that everybody in the courtroom, I mean, it’s, you have to be very quiet in a courtroom and very respectful, but everybody, you know, we’re all wearing masks and all the journalists are looking at each other like, “Oh my God, this is really happening.”
And you could see all the lawyer faces on the zoom. And they, it was like this collage of deer in headlights. Like none of the lawyers knew what to do. Like the train had left the tracks, you know, like it was Britney’s show, and nothing was going according to their plan. It was a very emotional, very powerful moment.
Jay Ruderman: Right. I remember the, uh, the scene, that you guys recorded. When I think Tess left the courtroom, you saw Babs and you know, like how emotional you guys were. I mean, having gone through this whole thing and saying like, oh my God, she laid out her case.
Barbara Gray: That was like the last, the missing piece, basically, because it was just like, everyone is, you know, [00:37:00] out there trying to fight for her, but people needed to hear it from her. Like, Oh my God, this woman is in a terrible situation. She has to get out. She was so brave and did it, and it was just like, so overwhelming.
Jay Ruderman: Is that that where the conservatorship starts to fall apart?
Tess Barker: Yeah, people start resigning and then, finally, after many, many attempts over many years to be able to hire her own attorney, the judge allows her to hire her own attorney.
That happened a couple months later. So then once she had an attorney who actually was acting on her behalf, wheels were set in motion right away to start to terminate the conservatorship.
Jay Ruderman: Ultimately the conservatorship is terminated, which makes you ask, like, why was it around for so many years? Like, why did she need this conservatorship if all of a sudden, very quickly the court decides to terminate it?
Barbara Gray: Yeah, I mean, I think no one was truly fighting on her behalf. She came to the court previously talking about her father, drinking and talking about things that she wasn’t happy with in the conservatorship. And they did [00:38:00] not respond to that. Her lawyer didn’t do anything. So she just really needed an actual advocate.
Jay Ruderman: Do you feel that our country’s views about mental health changed as a result of this journey? Or, did this happen because the views had started to change in the country about mental health?
Tess Barker: I think both. We really think of the Britney story, not really as a Britney story, but it’s really a bigger disability rights story. I think it has shifted the way that we view people with disabilities and the agency that they should be given and the way that so many of their rights are just blanket taken away instead of looking at what is this person able to do, specific areas where they need support, it’s really been standard practice to just really strip people of their rights. And so I think it has shifted the way that we view disability and the rights of disabled people.
Jay Ruderman: What would you say to people listening? And I understand this’s about a million people in the United States under conservatorship. How do you view conservatorship abuse. How does someone see that it’s happening and what do they do once they see it’s happening?
Barbara Gray: A lot of [00:39:00] times it’s about finding out what’s going on with someone’s finances. There was a huge case in Nevada where, you know, a woman was found guilty of taking advantage of all the people she had conserved because they, got into her finances and found out she was charging people for all these ridiculous things and like buying pants with their credit cards and things like that.
If you can get any information about finances and how somebody might be misusing someone’s money or charging things incorrectly, or just any evidence like that, of something going on. But, I mean, number one, they need a good advocate. They need a good lawyer. I mean, the other woman who we interviewed, on Toxic named Dorothy, her son put her in a conservatorship and, she’s a very, spitfire woman, lives in her own home and she was like, “Yeah, sure. I, you know, I, maybe I don’t clean my house sometimes, but I have my shit together basically. She had to go find a lawyer who would actually advocate for her. And once she did, she finally got out. But it’s honestly really takes, like, being able to find [00:40:00] someone who will, who will stick up for you in the courtroom.
Tess Barker: The lawyer helped Dorothy told us, I mean, one challenge that people who face conservative abuse, face is that the attorney that’s gonna help you, essentially, isn’t gonna get paid at the beginning of their work because the court needs to decide, “Oh, this is your attorney.” And that needs to be signed off by the person who you’re trying to get rid of.
So people in conservatorships are in a real Catch-22 and Dorothy was really lucky to find an advocate who was willing to work, essentially, pro bono for a little bit until, Dorothy was emancipated. Finding someone who is willing to put in that work for you and I would say a big sign of conservatorship abuse is also isolation.
If you have someone who their phone calls are being restricted, their visits with their families being restricted. That’s a huge sign of, of domestic violence and I think conservatorship abuse.
Jay Ruderman: Where does the free Britney movement go from here?
Barbara Gray: I think people are still interested in seeing justice for what happened to her. Seeing her father, pay some kind of consequence, seeing Lou Taylor pay some kind of consequence. So, there’s still [00:41:00] stuff coming up. There’s other hearings coming up and people are still paying attention.
So I think everyone’s just hopeful that she’ll get something back for all the kind of years they took away from her and, you know, it’s helping change laws in California now conservative can actually choose their own lawyer. That was a law that got passed last year. I think.
So I think that people are being able to use her case as like an example of not using this as a blanket rights restrictions, but trying to go through and, treat each case by case. Hopefully now that more people are aware of the problem, I think that that’s a huge help because a lot of people just didn’t know about it before.
Jay Ruderman: Well, thank you for both of you and everyone in the movement for really changing the way we view guardianship conservatorship and the abuses that go on. Do you guys still follow Britney now that she’s out of the conservatorship?
Barbara Gray: Oh, yeah, definitely.
Tess Barker: Yeah, I’ll probably always follow Britney. You know, I thought I was very happy to see her so happy at her wedding and I’ll always follow her [00:42:00] on Instagram. And if she puts out an album, I’ll be the first in line to buy it.
Jay Ruderman: Well, I wanna thank you both for coming on all about change. You really changed our world and, and I know you didn’t get into it initially thinking that was what was gonna happen, but, you really, changed the world and probably changed the world for so many people. You will never even know. So, I wanna thank you. And I really appreciate, what you’re doing out there.
Tess Barker: Thanks. Thanks for having us.
Barbara Gray: Oh, thank you. That’s very sweet.
Jay Ruderman: All About Change is a production of the Ruderman Family Foundation. This show is produced by Yochai Maital, Jackie Schwartz, Matt Litman, and Mijon Zulu. If you enjoyed this episode, be sure to come back in two weeks for another inspiring story. In the meantime, we still have all our previous content live on our feed and linked on our new website allaboutchangepodcast.com. Lastly, if you enjoyed our show, please help us spread the word, tell a friend or family member, or consider writing a review on your favorite podcasting app. I’m Jay Ruderman and I’ll [00:43:00] catch you next time on All About Change.
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