Disney kid, musical superstar, mum of two; Britney Spears turns 30 in two weeks. Peter Robinson meets the cultural icon.
Four days into the London leg of her UK tour, Britney Spears sits opposite me in a ludicrously opulent, split-level suite at London’s Dorchester Hotel for the launch of her latest fragrance Cosmic Radiance. I swear it feels bigger than most schools, with a mirrorball-coated grand piano downstairs in the second reception room. She is wearing a bright-red turtleneck (reminiscent of her Latex suit in 2000’s Oops!… I Did It Again video if she wasn’t wearing black trousers with it) and is surrounded by a few close confidants; “Team Britney”, as she calls them.
She’s just made a sound not unlike an out-of-control washing machine. It’s her way of recreating the noise she made during last night’s Wembley Arena show.
“I didn’t really tell someone off,” her story had begun a moment earlier. “But during one of the costume changes we couldn’t get the buttons of one of my outfits on. It was taking a really long time. Then this bracelet [jangles chunky silver bracelet] got caught on my fishnets and at the same time I’m doing this [waves arms around] and trying to get my make-up on and I’m like…” And there’s that washing machine noise again.
Britney sighs loudly and composes herself. “So in answer to your question,” which had been: When did you last tell someone off? “I didn’t really tell anyone off, but I do have my moments.”
Watching Britney Spears have a ‘moment’ is a lot of fun. This isn’t the first time I’ve met her and I’m pleased to find her both relaxed and focused. She turns 30 in two weeks (on 2 December) and it’s fair to say she has experienced more than most of us as she approaches the milestone birthday. From Disney Mouseketeer to teen sensation; five sell-out world tours and a multimillion dollar perfume empire; the world watched as Britney, having split from the father of her two children and followed by paparazzi 24/7, was slowly picked apart by the pressures of fame, resulting in a very public breakdown in 2007.
But, although various media reports continue to throw out the same line about Britney still being slightly fragile, (despite another two sell-out world tours and launching another perfume, Cosmic Radiance), this afternoon she is animated, carefree, sharp and self-aware. She’s lightly funny too.
At one point she tells me about a dream she had two nights ago. “In my dream I needed an alarm clock,” she recalls. There is a very slight pause as she looks around, almost wishing for someone to proffer some Freudian explanation about the warping of time or the need for some sort of metaphorical ‘wake-up call’. “Maybe that was a sign that I needed to, you know, get an alarm clock,” she quips dryly.
Her biggest daily challenge, she adds, is, “trying to get up and go work out in the morning. I haven’t worked out in, like, two weeks. Sometimes it’s hard to be motivated. But once you get up and do it you feel like you’ve conquered the world.”
As she talks, her conversational style is concise but friendly, whether she’s discussing future plans for film roles (there are a couple of scripts she’s looking at), her favourite shops (she’s hoping to visit Topshop while she’s in London), her beauty regime (in a nutshell: drink loads of water), her fans and her family (she cherishes the bracelet responsible for catching her fishnets, it has the names of her sons – Sean Preston, six, and Jayden James, five – on it and was a gift from a fan). I think I might actually finally be getting to know the real Britney: the quite normal, mum of two, with a strong Southern twang that just happens to be an international pop star on the weekends. And I really like her.
Can you describe your new scent?
It’s very feminine and girly. It's sweet and citrusy with a hint of my favourite scent – night-blooming jasmine. The inspirations behind it are my Femme Fatale album and empowered women.
Did you hear Jessie J saying she won’t go on stage without your perfume on?
I saw that! That’s so cool!
Why do you think your fragrances have done so well?
Some of it’s down to just taking things into my own hands. I love the process of finding all the combinations of oils and when you’ve spent so much time experimenting with them it’s exciting to find ‘the special one’.
You’ve been in the public eye for 13 years now. What does it mean to be a celebrity in 2011?
Wow. Well, I feel… [pause] Actually, let me start over. I don’t know what to say about that.
If I change that to, what does it mean to be a musician in 2011? Would that work?
That’s better! Well, it’s really cool because there are so many new, up-and-coming artists to look at and be inspired by. For me, I think it’s great to have a little competition because I feel it inspires us [Team Britney] and makes us want to do better. There are so many soulful singers, even the ones coming from London, like Adele and Jessie J, who are just amazing. It feels like a really cool time to be making music now. In the beginning obviously I was very young and I didn’t know the ins and outs of things; I was very instinctive in what I wanted to do, and I was very vocal with my input on things. I think as the years have gone by, and as I’ve evolved as an artist, I’ve put even more into my career, and after that amount of time you start to know exactly what you want. You feel a little bit more in your skin, in terms of who you are. And that just feels really nice.
“I was very young and I didn’t know the ins and outs of things; I was very instinctive”
Do you feel in your skin now?
The papers are full of people who don’t really know you giving their opinion on what they think about you. But how do you think people who do know you would describe you?
People who do know me? That’s a difficult question. That is a difficult question! I don’t know. Do you think they’d say nice things? Yes, they’d say nice things.
What was the last book you read?
The Mastery Of Love [sub-titled A Practical Guide To The Art Of Relationship by Don Miguel Ruiz]. It’s basically an analysis of love and what it means to love. It goes through all the different aspects of love. Who you are as a person, knowing yourself before you even attempt to love anyone else; that sort of thing. It’s really well-written and thought-provoking.
Would you recommend it? What would I learn from it?
Yes definitely, it’s very cool. It’s not so much about learning something; it’s one of those things where you already know this stuff, but it’s good to instil it in yourself again.
You’ve said in the past that it’s a thirst for success that defines you. Has your definition of success changed over the years?
For me, success is a state of mind. I feel like success isn’t about conquering something, it’s being happy with who you are.
Is that something you’ve realised recently?
You posted a photo on Twitter earlier this year, of you cooking with your kids at home. Your kitchen seemed really traditional. Is the rest of your house similarly decorated?
Yes, my house is very traditional. And I love ‘shabby chic’. It’s a very homey-cosy vibe. We spend a lot of time in the kitchen actually, maybe my kids will be doing their homework or that kind of thing when they get home from school. I love my kitchen.
Do you ask people to take their shoes off when they come in your house?
Do you take your shoes off when you go to other people’s houses?
What’s a food treat for you?
Chocolate. Definitely chocolate. A lot of chocolate.
Do you have any favourite chocolate or are you completely indiscriminate?
I love Scores in the States, with the caramel in the middle, and every once in a while if I’m really hungry then a Snickers bar is good.
And M&Ms are great, Hershey’s Whoppers are great, Raisinettes…
You like chocolate.
Yeah. Twixes are great too. And the new Hershey’s Cookies & Cream, too.
“I feel like success isn’t about conquering something, it’s being happy with who you are”
What was the last film you saw?
The Never-Ending Story. I watched it with my children.
What did they make of it?
They liked it. They were scared in places. They were like, “This is scary, we don’t want to watch this”, and I was like, “It’s not scary, it’s fake, it’s a movie”. They haven’t really grasped the concept that movies are fake – they always say, “Is this real?”, and I’m like, “No, baby, it’s just a movie”. But they liked it.
So how do you explain what you do when they see it on TV? For instance, in your latest video you’re robbing a grocery shop. How do you explain to them that this person on TV is one thing but the person sitting in front of them is something else?
I think they’re starting to understand that it’s part of my work and what I do. It’s part of mommy being a performer. And being a performer, one of the things that entails is playing different characters and having fun and doing different things.
One of the big ironies of being a global pop star is that you get to travel the world but not actually see much of it like a normal person would. Is there anywhere you’ve been where you’d like to go in disguise?
Well, in some situations I’d love to be able to, y’know, put a disguise on and go to a restaurant and not be noticed. But actually it’s been pretty cool on this tour, there haven’t been that many paparazzi and I’ve been able to get out with my children and go and see a lot of things.
What would be the dream holiday, and who would you go with?
It would be with my children of course, and my boyfriend Jason [Trawick, also Britney’s agent], and really that’s it. We’d probably just go skiing somewhere really beautiful and have hot chocolate, in a cabin…
Are you a good skier?
No. [Laughs]. But I enjoy the process of learning. I do get frustrated when I see little kids go really fast beside me but for the most part, once you get going and you’ve got an idea of how you’re going to ski, it’s kind of fun.
When you’re performing, what are you thinking about?
What do I think about? Wow. Usually I’m so in the moment of being there with the audience that I don’t really have time to think about anything. You’re just focused on the tunes and what you’re doing and interacting with the audience and making sure you’re on cue. It’s more like a yoga state of mind, you know?
Who’d be your dream musical collaboration at this stage?
I like Gwen Stefani.
What music are you listening to at the moment?
Well I usually listen to a lot of hip-hop in my dressing room when I’m getting ready to go on stage, so Jay-Z a lot recently. And a lot of rock stuff like Aerosmith. That really gets me going and pumps me up. And then of course, there’s Jessie J and Adele.
And finally, do you have a bucket list?
I would like to go skydiving.
Cosmic Radiance, from £23, available from Boots, Superdrug and The Perfume Shop. Britney Spears Live: The Femme Fatale Tour is out on DVD on 28 November
Picture credits: Rex Features