“I know at some point she will tell her story,” says Culotta in a very rare interview.
Britney Spears’ conservatorship was at the center of a new documentary from The New York Times, “Framing Britney Spears,” which dropped Friday on both FX and Hulu.
While the special included interviews with many people in the singer’s inner circle over the years, reporters and even some fans, the most surprising person to pop up in the 75-minute doc was Felicia Culotta, Spears’ longtime friend and former assistant.
As someone who was right there with Britney from her early years through her Vegas residency — and for all her personal issues in between — Culotta’s insight definitely added something new to the conversation around Spears’ conservatorship.
“The one reason I agreed to do the interview is so we can remind people why they fell in love with her in the first place,” Culotta explained near the top of the special.
“I don’t know that I ever really had any definition on what I was supposed to do with Britney. For a long time they called me her chaperone and then at one point they wanted to call me her partner and we didn’t think that sounded right,” she said of her role in Spears’ orbit. “I definitely wasn’t her mother or her big sister, so we settled on assistant.”
Footage showed Culotta proudly showing off the Britney record and ticket sale memorabilia she had framed on the walls of her home, as she talked about the “tiny, sleepy” town of Kentwood, Louisiana from which they hailed. “We are who we are, we’re not wealthy, but we’re wealthy in other ways,” she added, saying Spears was a church-goer from a young age and someone she’s known since Britney was just five years old.
Culotta explained that she was working as a nanny in New York City when Spears landed her record deal. That’s when she first became a member of the Britney team, after a call from the singer’s mother, Lynne Spears.
“She said, ‘Felicia I had an ulterior motive for inviting you to dinner. She got a record deal today and I can’t travel with her, Jamie Lynn’s in the first grade, can you travel with her?'” Culotta recalled, saying she initially only agreed to be her so-called chaperone for just three months. Of course, their working relationship lasted much longer than that.
She detailed how, as Britney’s popularity started to climb during those early “…Baby One More Time Days,” fans started to seek her out at mall performances instead of simply coming across them while they shopped. She also revealed how Spears used some of her early earnings to give back to those in her hometown.
“We still were those people from Mississippi, Louisiana, we were fresh, everything was new,” said Felicia. “One of the first things that she did when she just was getting famous was, we were home for Christmas, and she wanted to go get $10,000 in $100 bills and she drove through Kentwood and gave out $100 bills.”
As the special touched on Britney’s relationship with Justin Timberlake, Culotta was MIA, though she did briefly comment on Spears’ marriage to Kevin Federline.
“I don’t think I was at all surprised when she and Kevin got engaged,” said Felicia. “She told me and then I remember her saying, ‘I gotta call my mama.’ I was like, ‘Absolutely, you do.”
From there, the documentary started to detail some of the trouble areas of Spears’ life, which began around the time she and Federline welcomed their first son, Sean Preston. The two welcomed another baby, before splitting, as stories about Britney being an unfit mother started making headlines. Then came the nights out with Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, the head-shaving incident, her custody battle and, eventually, her 2008 5150 hold. That, of course, led to her conservatorship, which she’s still under today.
“To be honest, I didn’t then nor do I now understand what a conservatorship is,” Culotta said of the arrangement, under which Spears has no control over her estate or finances. “Especially for somebody’s Britneys age and somebody capable of so much I know, firsthand, she’s capable of.”
“Once the conservatorship started, my role changed,” said Culotta, who transitioned into a job giving backstage tours when the “Circus” tour started in 2009.
“When I went back, it was a different business management and her dad was involved. They did not hire me, the touring company hired me,” Culotta explained. “I don’t know why the Britney company didn’t hire me. All I know is, maybe, they didn’t know the role I had played earlier.”
“So I took a backseat and simply did what I was hired to do,” she added. “I don’t really know what went on, I just don’t know that they knew her well enough to realize her capabilities in making the decisions. Just me looking in, that’s what I saw.”
Culotta continued to give backstage tours in Las Vegas once Britney’s residency began there in 2015. “I’m telling you when she walked on that stage, she never felt judged when she went on the stage,” said Felicia, “It was one of the high points in my life, is seeing how much she was loved.”
Felicia’s final appearances in the documentary showed her fondly looking back at photos of her and Spears during earlier times, as she expressed feeling optimistic about Britney’s future.
“I know at some point she will tell her story, I know she will and I am so grateful for when that point comes,” said Culotta. “Everything will fall into place.”
Spears and her father, Jamie, are still in a battle over her conservatorship, with Britney making it clear she wants him to step down. Her lawyer, Sam Ingham, said she’s refusing to perform again until Jamie is no longer a co-conservator.
The New York Times noted that they attempted to reach out to Jamie, Lynne, Jamie Lynn and Bryan Spears, as well as Ingham, Sam Lutfi and Britney herself to participate in the documentary but their reps either didn’t respond or declined to be interviewed on camera.