Josh Helfgott was just 13-years-old when he met Britney Spears for the first time.
Helfgott reflected on this moment in a recent Twitter thread following the release of Spears’ new song with Elton John. The 33-year-old posted a selfie that he had taken with Spears two decades prior after winning a contest to meet the pop star.
“When I was 10 years old, I had no friends because kids could tell I was gay, so every night I would listen to Britney Spears,” he wrote in the first tweet. "She made me feel so… big. Even though, deep down, I still felt so small.”
In the next tweet, Helfgott recounted the moment he had met Spears alongside a photo of him sitting next to Spears on a couch, writing, “I remember walking in first and seeing a huge baby-blue sofa with Britney in the middle.”
“I nervously went to sit on the floor but Britney patted the seat next to her ‘Come sit here,’” he added. “Our legs were touching. ‘Would you like some M&Ms sweetie?’ She pointed to a big bowl & smiled.”
In a third tweet, he posted his original selfie with Spears from when he was a teenager alongside a recent photo of the two posing together at a meet and greet.
“I told her how alone I felt. And how one day I hope to inspire kids who are ‘different’ like me,” he wrote. “Britney looked me in the eyes and said ‘Josh, you are good enough. You are worthy. Don’t let anyone stop you from following your dreams. I know you can do this.’ She was right.”
Helfgott concluded his thread with one last tweet, writing, “When I was 13, I didn’t have any friends. Except my best friend…Britney Spears. I will forever love her, just like she loved me. #WelcomeBackBritney.”
Helfgott recounted his adolescence during an interview with TODAY, explaining that his childhood bullying began as early as kindergarten when other kids started calling him “weird.” It wasn’t until the first grade that he had learned the word “gay,” before getting exposed to slurs the next school year.
"Kids always knew I was different," he said. Sitting with girls instead of boys and writing an assignment about a boyband served as “flags to everyone.”
His adolescence was “really, really hard” growing up in a more conservative town and experiencing bullying throughout his schooling, both from students and teachers. He recalled two specific incidents, including a time in first grade where another student told him “I think you’re gay” before he knew what the word meant and a time in middle school when a teacher mocked him to the class by using a “super feminine, stereotypically gay” voice mimicking a question he'd just asked.
“I was so young and I learned that I was ‘weird’ and then gay and then that slur,” he said. “Those words still haunt me to this day.”
Initially, it was Spears’ confidence that drew Helfgott in. He had seen the “Baby One More Time” music video and was mesmerized by the confidence that one of the girls in the video exuded as she walked down the hall. He explained, “She didn’t hate herself, she seemed to love herself, and that is one of the reasons I looked up to her so much — I wanted that confidence at school.”
“When I met Britney and spoke to her, the fact that she understood what I was saying is a testament to how much she cared,” he said of their initial meeting. “To have her tell me that I’m worthy when my teachers and my peers were consistently reinforcing that I wasn’t enough was enough fuel for me to go on, for me to get where I am today.”
Helfgott expressed that it wasn’t simply just a photo with Spears, but it was “proof that I am good enough,” adding, “Just a couple of minutes to a kid can change their life in a way that years and years can’t and I’m eternally grateful for it.”
Britney Spears’ ‘…Baby One More Time’ turns 20!Oct. 24, 201802:37
Helfgott’s thread has garnered several hundred replies, with many other Twitter users sharing their own experiences of feeling ostracized as a teen. When he first read some of the responses, he said he began to cry when he realized that other people went through the same thing he had growing up.
“When I was a kid, I truly thought that I was the only one — that I was the only gay boy in my town, that I was the only boy at that age who likes Britney Spears,” he said. “Reading the thread was so shocking to me because I saw that I was not alone at all. There were so many other gay boys around the entire world who were going through the exact same thing as I was and Britney Spears was their reason for holding on.”
Helfgott holds the thread near to his heart now, explaining, “I think if 13-year-old me could read that thread and see how many other kids were going through the exact same thing, maybe I wouldn’t have needed Britney or those other kids wouldn’t have need Britney because we wold have had each other. That’s ultimately what I want for the world, I want a more accepting place.”
Britney Spears to collab with Elton John on ‘Tiny Dancer’ duetJuly 26, 202201:00
As a longtime fan of Spears, Helfgott is “so proud” of her new duet “Hold Me Closer” with John. He added, “Most of us are well aware that this song is a duet with a very out and proud Elton John and that’s really special for me, too, and kind of a full circle moment.”
Helfgott, who has met the pop star twice, also attributes Spears’ longevity to who she is as a person, explaining, “She really has a unique connection with her fans but also a unique connection with the world. I think that there’s a reason why Britney is still here today and I think it’s because of her heart.”
With Spears serving as a pillar of inspiration in Helfgott’s life, he wanted to provide the same sense of comfort with his own platform. He began creating videos on social media in March 2020 and has grown his following to nearly 6 million followers across all of his platforms. He now creates content as a way of being a voice for his 13-year-old self with a popular series on TikTok he's dubbed "Gay News."
Helfgott explained, “Today, I make videos for LGBTQ kids and any kid who feels alone and feels like they don’t have a voice because I think that whether I’m covering a positive story or a negative story on gay news, for these kids to see someone like them sharing these stories is extremely powerful."
“I make videos to inspire and educate the LGBTQ community and let every kid and or parent of an LGBTQ child know that they are loved and they are not alone," he added. "And that is exactly what Britney did for me. So to be that voice, even for one queer kid on the internet, is the most empowering thing I could have ever done with my life.”