Diane Sawyer, queen of the U.S. TV celebrity interview, sat down opposite Britney Spears in her candle-lit living room, put on her most sympathetic expression — then let rip with an interrogation so hostile it reduced the young singer to tears.
This was 2003 and, as broadcaster ABC reminded viewers at the start of its exclusive interview, the singer was ‘the most famous 21-year-old on the planet’.
According to Spears, in her long-awaited memoir, by the end of their chat in the New York apartment where she lived alone, she was possibly the most miserable one, too.
Sawyer pulled her up on her sexually provocative image, her hypocrisy over pledges about her virginity and drug abstinence, her shopping ‘addiction’, her infamous kiss with Madonna (while performing at an awards show earlier that year), and even the quality of her singing voice.
However, whether Sawyer knew it or not, what really hurt was her suggestion that Spears was the guilty party in her split from pop star Justin Timberlake — her first serious boyfriend — and that he was the one who had been left distraught by their break-up in 2002 after three years together.
In the 275-page The Woman In Me, Spears says she was shocked when Timberlake made a video for his song, Cry Me A River, in which ‘a woman who looks like me cheats on him and he wanders around sad in the rain’
Britney Spears is particularly keen to set the record straight about Timberlake, who repeatedly said he’d been ‘scorned’ and cheated on (Pictured together in 2002)
Britney’s infamous kiss with Madonna while performing at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards
In the 275-page The Woman In Me, of which the Mail has seen excerpts in advance of its publication next week, Spears says she was shocked when Timberlake made a video for his song, Cry Me A River, in which ‘a woman who looks like me cheats on him and he wanders around sad in the rain’.
It led, she says, to a media backlash which left her feeling like a ‘harlot who’d broken the heart of America’s golden boy’ when, in reality, she says: ‘I was comatose in Louisiana and he was happily running around Hollywood.’ She continues: ‘Everyone felt very sorry for him… anywhere I went, I could get booed.’
She refused to say any of this when Sawyer — ignoring Spears’ obvious discomfort — accused her of infidelity.
Now, 20 years on, she has finally opened up on the matter in her hotly anticipated autobiography. It’s filled with anger and sadness, but also illustrates the arrested development of stars who become super-famous when young — Spears had her first big hit …Baby One More Time, at just 16.
The singer admits that, even as she became a mother, she felt like a child — especially after control of her life and £50 million fortune was handed to her father in a controversial 13-year legal conservatorship. Spears complained this week that for years she has ‘sat back while people spoke about me and told my story for me’. Well, she’s certainly telling it her way now.
She reveals she lost her virginity to a friend of her brother when she was around 14 and that she became pregnant when she and Timberlake were both 19. However, after he made it clear he thought they were ‘way too young’ to start a family, she agreed to have an abortion — ‘one of the most agonising things I have ever experienced in my life’.
Left to her, she says she would never have done it. As she lay ‘crying and sobbing’ on the bathroom floor after the procedure, Timberlake tried to cheer her up by playing the guitar. She also discloses how he let her know he wanted to end their relationship in 2002 by text, leaving her feeling ‘clinically in shock’.
Although Spears, 41, confirms a rumour that she kissed Wade Robson, a choreographer, during her relationship with Timberlake, she says he was cheating on her with other women — to which she turned a blind eye.
In the aftermath of the break-up, she had a much speculated about fling with Irish actor Colin Farrell, whom she met through a ‘club promoter friend’ before visiting him on the set of his 2003 movie S.W.A.T.
Spears then accompanied him to the premiere of his movie The Recruit, where he told reporters: ‘There’s nothing going on — just mates.’ But in her memoir, Spears says of their affair: ‘Brawl is the only word for it — we were all over each other, grappling so passionately it was like we were in a street fight,’ admitting she was not over her relationship with Timberlake.
‘As I had before when I’d felt too attached to a man, I tried to convince myself in every way that it was not a big deal, that we were just having fun, that in this case, I was vulnerable because I wasn’t over Justin yet. For a brief moment in time, I did think there could be something there.’
The troubled singer also attacks Diane Sawyer, saying the interview was a ‘breaking point’. She claims she was pressured to do it by her father and management team to promote her latest album. ‘I felt like I had been exploited, set up in front of the whole world,’ she says. (Her estranged father, Jamie, insists he wasn’t involved.)
In a 2003 interview, Diane Sawyer (right) pulled Britney up on her image, her shopping ‘addiction’ and even the quality of her singing voice. But what hurt the most was her suggestion that Spears was the guilty party in her split from pop star Justin Timberlake
In June 2021, Britney finally spoke out publicly against a legal arrangement she insisted was exploitative and abusive
Spears is particularly keen to set the record straight about Timberlake, who repeatedly said he’d been ‘scorned’ and cheated on. The singer, who met Timberlake when they were child stars on TV’s Mickey Mouse Club, says she was so ‘devastated’ when they split that she considered quitting showbusiness.
Their romance at least showed her how much she was objectified, as chat-show hosts had treated the young stars so differently.
‘Everyone kept making strange comments about my breasts, wanting to know whether or not I’d had plastic surgery,’ she says.
It was an unpalatable male interest she says she’d experienced from an early age. She recalls how, aged ten, she appeared on TV talent show Star Search and its host, Ed McMahon, asked if she had a boyfriend. When she said she didn’t because boys were ‘mean’, McMahon said: ‘I’m not mean! How about me?’
Spears said that as soon as she left the stage she ‘burst into tears’. She also reveals that, contrary to her carefully honed image as a clean-living teenager from the Bible Belt, she would drink rum daiquiris with her mother Lynne when she was only 14.
After the singer became a star, she says criticism led her to start taking the anti-depressant Prozac. She insists that although she was photographed partying with the likes of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, ‘it was never as wild as the Press made it out to be’.
She says she wasn’t interested in hard drugs such as cocaine and ‘never had a drinking problem’. Her ‘drug of choice’ was ADHD med Adderall. The drug ‘made me high, yes, but what I found more appealing was that it gave me a few hours of feeling less depressed’.
Spears says her mental health problems accelerated after the end of her three-year marriage to dancer Kevin Federline in 2007 and a custody battle over their two children. ‘I aged backward. As a new mother, it was as if some part of me became the baby,’ she writes.
She says that she was ‘out of my mind with grief’ when, in a very public meltdown later that year, she had her head shaved in front of photographers. A few days later she attacked a paparazzo’s car with an umbrella.
Hitting shelves next Tuesday! Britney Spears finally spills the beans about her two-week fling with Colin Farrell (L, pictured in 2003) in her highly-anticipated memoir The Woman In Me
Legs for days: Britney Spears has revealed she lost her virginity long before her romance with Justin Timberlake – flying in the face of her previous claims
She had by then had stints in rehab and, after she was twice involuntarily placed in a psychiatric ward the following year, her father was made her legal guardian. Some of the singer’s devoted fans have insisted that she was essentially the victim of a conniving, greedy father.
Spears admits she fell apart, saying: ‘With my head shaved, everyone was scared of me, even my mom. Flailing those weeks without my children, I lost it, over and over again. I didn’t even really know how to take care of myself.’
In 2008, a California court agreed to the conservatorship on the grounds of her mental health and substance abuse, giving her father control of her finances, career and personal life — not just over her choice of boyfriend but even down to the choice of kitchen fittings.
She also accuses her father of exaggerating her drug problems, once sending her to rehab when she’d only been taking over-the-counter supplements. She claims the conservatorship was ‘death to my creativity as an artist’. When she performed a residency in Las Vegas, she wasn’t able to select which songs she sang.
The conservatorship lasted until 2021 and, while her father has insisted he only ever acted in her best interests, Spears compares it to prison, writing: ‘I know I had been acting wild, but there was nothing I’d done that justified their treating me like I was a bank robber.’
She says her father once told her: ‘I’m Britney Spears now’, although she continued to record and perform, earning millions. ‘Too sick to choose my own boyfriend and yet somehow healthy enough to appear on sitcoms and morning shows, and to perform for thousands of people in a different part of the world every week,’ she complains. She came to believe her father saw her simply as the family’s cash cow.
If reports are accurate that her father had consulted lawyers over the book, he had every right to be worried.
She has little to say about him that’s positive, highlighting his alcoholism and saying his criticism of her figure — ‘he repeatedly told me I looked fat’ — were even more hurtful than the media’s barbed remarks.
She writes of her life under the conservatorship: ‘Security guards handed me pre-packaged envelopes of meds and watched me take them. They put parental controls on my iPhone. Everything was scrutinised and controlled. Everything.’ She adds: ‘I became a robot. But not just a robot — a sort of child-robot.’
Spears says after unsuccessful attempts to overturn it, matters came to a head in late 2018 when she spent another three months in rehab. Her father, she says, threatened to make her look an ‘idiot’ in court if she refused to go.
In the £50,000-a-month facility in Beverly Hills, she was not even allowed to take a bath in private or shut the door to her room. She was allowed only an hour of TV before bed at 9pm and couldn’t leave the site.
However, one of the nurses there showed her footage of protests by her fans in the #FreeBritney movement, which was ‘the most amazing thing I’d ever seen in my life’.
In June 2021, she finally spoke out publicly against a legal arrangement she insisted was exploitative and abusive.
When her father was removed as her conservator, she says: ‘I felt relief sweep over me… the man who had scared me as a child and ruled over me as an adult, who had done more than anyone to undermine my self-confidence, was no longer in control of my life.’
So now she is free, what next for Britney? Fans will be disappointed to learn the singer currently has no plans to record more music as she thinks ‘it’s time to actually find myself’.
Given that process currently involves posting videos of herself on Instagram, dancing around in skimpy outfits and provocatively brandishing large knives, it would appear that the Princess of Pop has yet to find the peace and maturity she craves.