Lynne Spears, whose daughters Britney and Jamie Lynn found both fame and infamy in a dizzyingly short amount of time, said her new book is an attempt to set the record straight. “I think there was the tabloid version of our lives,” she told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira in an exclusive interview Wednesday. “I wanted people to see our family as we really are.”
Spears had begun the book, “Through the Storm: A Real Story of Fame and Family in a Tabloid World,” five years ago as a collection of poems and memories. But when controversy and scandal erupted first around Britney and then around Jamie Lynn, she decided she needed to tell the story the way it really happened to real people.
“I have sat for hours thinking and thinking about everything that’s happened,” Spears, 53, explained. “It’s been a whirlwind. It’s been a wild ride for everybody.”
Spears came to the conclusion that it was the mixture of Britney’s superstar celebrity status and the 24/7 coverage of the paparazzi, 17 of whom were assigned full-time to chronicle her every move, that spawned the “storm” in her title.
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But the “wild ride” started as a dream — a dream that Britney Spears had been pursuing with dogged determination ever since she was a little girl who spent her days singing and dancing and envisioning herself as a superstar.
Britney Jean Spears was born Dec. 2, 1981. She was the second child of Jamie Parnell Spears, a building contractor, and Lynne, a teacher; her brother Bryan is five years older. Britney’s talent was evident from the start, and she was an accomplished gymnast before turning her full attention to show business.
She began attending the New York Professional Performing Arts School at the age of 8. At 10, she was a contestant on “Star Search,” and at 11 was chosen to be a member of “The New Mickey Mouse Club” on the Disney Channel. Among her fellow cast members were Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera and Ryan Gosling.
In 1998, Britney recorded her first No. 1 hit, “Baby One More Time.” For a family from Louisiana, everything was suddenly beyond good. It was beyond belief.
“There’s the honeymoon phase at first,” Lynne Spears recalled to Vieira. “Everything is fabulous. Look at the wonderful trips she gets to go on. Look at the wonderful people she’s meeting.
“Then there’s the ugly side of things that turns, and we weren’t ready for that, either.”
The first hint of that ugly side came in 1999 when Britney, then just 17, appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine as a precocious woman-child dressed in little more than her underwear, hugging a stuffed toy and holding a telephone to her ear.
The photos raised eyebrows. Spears said the family was simply overwhelmed. “The Rolling Stone interview, we were so in awe. She’s just beginning. She’s just coming on the scene. We didn’t really know what we were doing.
“We were in shock at what was going on, and we were in awe. We didn’t have any choice in the pictures. We had no one that could tell us what we were supposed to be doing.”
“It was so crazy at that time. I don’t think anybody was trying to sit and think what was going on,” Spears said of the darkest time, when Britney was committed to a hospital for psychiatric problems and Jamie Lynn was 16 and pregnant. “We were praying very hard, because it seemed like we were having no control over anything that was happening. We were trying.”
In the book, Spears addresses critics who say that she should not have allowed Jamie Lynn to go into show business, given what happened to Britney. “I think they are assuming I was already acquainted with the bad press, the paparazzi, the utter lack of privacy,” she writes. “But at that time, it was pretty much all good.”
She expanded on that with Vieira, saying, “When Jamie Lynn got involved in it, that was during the honeymoon period of Britney’s career, when everything was coming up roses … Everything was just fun.”
Jamie Lynn handed her mother a note and told her to go into her bedroom to read it. “It said she was pregnant and everything was going to be OK. She was going to raise it ... I thought it was a joke. I was waiting for the punch line,” Lynne told Vieira.
“I was in shock. I think I was just truly in shock, and then I started to cry. And she started consoling me at that point.”
Spears said she blamed herself for all the things that had gone wrong: Britney’s two marriages, her shaving her head and lashing out against paparazzi, her hospitalizations, her public humiliations.
“As a mother, don’t we always blame ourselves?” she asked Vieira rhetorically. “I took a lot of the blame. I took all the blame. The personality I have, it’s always my fault.”
The person who finally rode to the rescue was Jamie Spears, Lynne’s ex-husband, who had found sobriety. He took over Britney’s affairs under a court order and helped get her career back on track. Looking fit and glowing with health, Britney recently won three MTV Video Music Awards and has another hit album.
“She’s strong,” Lynne said. “She’s resilient. She’s had some big bumps in the road, but Britney’s fine. Britney is headed to the top once again. I have no fears about Britney.”
She also feels the media has not given Britney a fair shake. “The bar’s probably been set way too high,” she said. “I don’t think the media’s fair to Britney to criticize her as much as they do.”
‘A balancing act’
After speaking with Vieira twice on TODAY, Spears returned for a third segment, this one with Al Roker. Roker asked her if her daughters’ careers have been worth all the pain.
Spears replied that she couldn’t imagine not allowing Britney and Jamie Lynn to chase their dreams. “You have to look at life as being a journey. You know, we’re all going to have bumps … You gotta be strong and try to go through it the best you know how.”
Spears also talked about her eldest child, 31-year-old Bryan, who has flown under the tabloid radar. “That’s lucky,” she said, adding that Bryan has been the one who’s teased her about the book, trying to convince her that some of the stories happened differently.
“A mother is as happy as her most unhappy child,” Lynne Spears told Roker. “You kind of gravitate toward the one who needs you the most at that time … It’s a balancing act. Maybe I haven’t done it as best as I could, but all I ever tell you is I tried.”
Then, referring to the title of the book, Roker asked, “Are you through the storm?”
“Oh, yes,” Spears said with a Mona Lisa smile. “We’re through the storm and we’re looking at the sunshine right now.”
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