Tony Barretto, Britney's ex-bodyguard who was the "secret witness" that recently filed a declaration in the Britney Spears/Kevin Federline custody battle which alleges "nudity, drug use and safety issues post-rehab" has told his story to News Of the World (a video message can be found there). While normally News Of The World is a terrible source, I believe the story in this case as it is a direct interview. It also matches some comments left be people on this blog who have been close the situation.
It reminds me of an editorial that appeared in That Other Blog on February 23, 2007, written anonymously by someone who has been through something similar to Britney, apparently a neighbor of hers at the time. Britney was in rehab when it was written. I have just reread it and it's quite remarkable how right this person was. It talks about substance abuse, rehab, being a "brand", paparazzi, and basically the pressures that Britney and many other celebrities have faced. It was a turning point for me when I read it back in February. I think it's worth reading along with the story Tony tells below (this is actually the version from dailymail.co.uk, which is shorter and I find easier to read. News of the World has more information if interested):
If Britney doesn't do something quick she will lose her children
By PETER SHERIDAN
Last updated at 22:27pm on 22nd September 2007
Standing 6ft 7in tall and weighing more than 32 stone, Tony Barretto is a born bodyguard.
His strength, his power and his intimidating physique have never been questioned – and neither has his loyalty.
He would, as he put it, 'have taken a bullet' for Britney Spears and her children.
In three months working for her, Barretto grew genuinely fond of the troubled singer, often caring for the two boys when Britney was unwell, otherwise engaged, or plain 'out of it'.
There was screaming, there was shouting, there was selfishness on an epic scale, but such things are all in a day's work for a professional minder.
So what could prompt this softly-spoken 27-year-old to become the 'secret witness' whose testimony under oath so gravely damaged Britney's child-custody battle last week?
His revelations, kept under seal by the judge, went unchallenged in court, seriously hurting Britney's chances of keeping the children.
But while some may suppose him to be motivated by revenge against an employer who dispensed with his services earlier this year, Tony Barretto has a different story to tell.
And it is all the more explosive for its heartfelt sincerity.
Today, for the first time, Barretto speaks about the fear, the heartache and, at times, the sheer horrors of working alongside Britney.
He fears not just for her future, but for all those close to her.
Barretto, a former private investigator and celebrity bodyguard, from Ventura, California, claims he saw Britney abuse narcotics and alcohol and that she neglected her children to the point of putting them at serious physical risk.
Indeed the frequent screaming bouts and episodes of depression left him fearing the singer might kill herself or even harm her children Preston, aged two, and Jayden, one.
It is a portrait of a troubled life that raises disturbing questions, not just about her chaotic private life, but about her suitability as a role model to millions of teenagers.
Scarcely a day goes by without fawning coverage of her antics in the world media.
Spears has been a wreck ever since filing for divorce from husband Kevin Federline last November.
Her self-destructive behaviour and wild partying led her to shave off her hair in February – an episode that has never been fully explained – and to seek help in a 'rehab clinic' the following month.
And that was when Barretto became involved, hired, as one of her four bodyguards on March 26, days after she left rehab.
He quickly found that protecting the singer was the least of his duties.
'I was surprised to find how much the job involved looking after her kids,' he says.
'She was always passing the kids along to us. If they were happy, she was happy. If they weren't happy, she was passing them on to the nanny or the security staff.
'We were the only family around her. She'd call a doctor to come out if they cried too much.
'She'd say: “Can you grab the baby, honey?” She always called me “baby” or “honey”. I don't think she ever learned my name.
'She'd tell me, “We're going for a tan. Can you take the baby?” And then she'd walk off. She wouldn't really ask me; she'd just leave.'
If Britney was imperiously self-indulgent, Barretto also found more disturbing traits.
'There was a time when I thought she was going to hurt the kids,' he confirms rubbing the dark eyes behind the spectacles.
'She sent the nanny home. She sent her best friend and personal assistant, Alli Sims, home. Britney hates to be alone, so this was worrying.
'One of the bodyguards who had been with her longest said she was beginning to shut down as she had just before she shaved her head.
He said she'd been talking about suicide then, and this was the same. Britney was sobbing. She screamed.'
Sensing danger, his colleague said: 'I'm worried about the kids. Don't let her go swimming with them.'
'Shocked, I asked, “Is she going to drown them?” He said, “I don't know.” I started to cry. How am I supposed to protect someone like that?'
Fortunately, they stayed out of the water – and safe from a mother clearly under stress.
Barretto believes her recent problems stem from the divorce with Federline.
'She wanted Kevin back, and she wouldn't have it that he is gone,' he explains.
'I think she was screaming in frustration. She lost the love of her life.
I think she's scarred from this.
She calls him and tries to be passive, but it usually turns into yelling matches.
She flung her phone out of the car during one argument. Then she borrowed my partner's phone, and smashed that during another row.'
Others, however, believe that the tantrums, the selfishness and the ever more frequent bouts of despair have deeper roots.
This, after all, is a girl who grew up on a Louisiana trailer park among the poorest of the American poor, to a family which, if desperate to succeed, was also prone to violence.
Put on a treadmill of singing lessons, dance lessons and auditions, she was then dragged thousands of miles around America as her parents looked for a showbiz opening.
Eventually it came, in the shape of the massive hits Oops! I Did It Again and ...Baby One More Time, in which the teenager played out a sexually loaded parody of teenage innocence.
A celebrity lifestyle – of sorts, at least – quickly followed.
Britney's £6million hilltop home sits in the exclusive gated community of The Summit, boasting spectacular views across the San Fernando Valley in California.
A guard house blocks the main gate, and visitors have to cross a second fence before they reach the house itself.
'It was surprisingly homely,' recalls Barretto.
'It's very dark inside. There isn't a lot of lighting. She spends much of her time in the bedroom, but there were several living rooms tastefully decorated. It was very comfortable.'
And with the celebrity house comes the servants – in the shape of her bodyguards who must have cigarettes and lighters permanently at the ready.
'I was at her beck and call to do whatever she asked,' he says.
'I often watched her kids, and helped her install an antique chandelier. Another guard once did her laundry.
'She doesn't treat her staff like slaves, but she's so self-obsessed that she doesn't think about the people around her.'
Among Barretto's many tasks was fetching her wake-up coffee, and Britney is a creature of routine.
'Typically she wakes around one or two in the afternoon,' he says. 'We get her two drinks from Starbucks: a hot large vanilla latte, and a cold mocha Frappuccino. We'd ask if she wants a hot or a cold.
'She goes tanning almost daily in Bel Air, on a UV tanning bed. Then she'll decide whether to have a manicure there.
'She loves sushi, so she'll often have that for breakfast, even though it's lunchtime.
'Through the day she snacks on crisps, and loves Coke, Special K cereal and Red Bull energy drinks.
'When she goes shopping sometimes we'll close down the whole store, other times an entire aisle.
'She likes to rent cars and drive them around. She wanted the newest Jaguar, but was upset that it wasn't white. We only found a black one.
'In the afternoon she'd come home and swim. Then she'd go out to dinner and a club.'
Britney tolerates the paparazzi, who reciprocate by feeding her parking meters and getting her coffees.
She is routinely pictured with Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, often in states of undress.
There is no shortage of money.
According to Barretto, she carries no cash, like the Queen, although this is probably the only point of comparison. 'She only has a solid titanium credit card with no limit,' says Barretto.
'She could buy a jet if she wanted. Her bodyguards carry cash for her. She buys things, we pay.'
But no amount of money, it seems, will solve her current woes.
'She's unpredictable. No one knows what she'll do next. That's what scared me. I don't know what caused her screaming, whether it was drugs or mental instability. She'd be wailing, making no sense. It was worse at night.
'She'd scream and guards would run to check on her, just in case it was a snake or an intruder.
'I'd ask how she was, and she'd say, “I'm OK.” Sometimes the baby was in the room when she screamed, and the guards would grab him.
'We had a security room beside the main house, with a couch and TV, and she'd frequently bring the kids in there to hang out with us.
'We'd say, “We're not bodyguarding; we're babysitting.” But we were babysitting Britney, as well as her kids.
'There were times when she spent very little time with them, some days less than an hour. And she's not very good at knowing whether they eat or need changing. I don't think I ever saw her feed her kids at home.
'Once she took the kids to the dance studio and didn't bring any food for them. She sent someone out to get them soup and crackers.
'She'd smoke around the house, and though she wouldn't smoke in front of the children, her clothes absorbed the smoke and I'm sure that made the baby cry.
'In my opinion, it was a child taking care of children. I wouldn't have her as a babysitter.
'The harder it was to comfort them, the likelier we'd end up with the children. She had a low attention span. She'd become bored with anything.'
Whether from boredom or some more deep-seated need, she turned to drugs, says Barretto.
'I've seen her take narcotics in nightclubs on only two occasions, but her drugged behaviour – fidgety, nervous, jumpy – I've seen at her home, too, so I assume she was on drugs at home,' he says.
'At the club, she was snorting a powdery substance, which I assume to be cocaine or methamphetamine.
'The first time she was at Teddy's nightclub in Hollywood in April, in a private booth.
'She asked me to hold the curtains up around it. After 20 minutes I looked over my shoulder, and she was snorting something out of her hand with a straw.
'One night I opened the restroom door after she'd been in there half an hour, and saw her snorting from a straw again.'
Barretto never saw Britney buy drugs, but says: 'She'd sneak out of the house on her own without security. Sometimes she'd be gone till the next morning. It was an unspoken subject, just as nobody ever asked her about drugs.'
Britney spent a month being treated for her addictions at Promises clinic in Malibu, but Barretto says: 'Rehab did her no good at all.
'I think she leads a secret lifestyle and hides it from those she doesn't trust. She gets upset with the notion of having to go there.'
Alcohol, too, appears a problem.
'She was supposed to be sober after rehab, but she loved her Jack Daniels and Coke,' says Barretto.
He claims: 'She'd always drink it in a Styrofoam cup, so nobody could see what she was drinking.
'I'd order for her, and the waitress would hand me the drink. Britney would walk upstairs to a private restroom to drink it.
'She'd have a pint glass filled with Jack Daniels and Coke. I hated it, because we had to go up and down those stairs all night so she could drink in secret.
'When she asked for a Jack and Coke, we'd give her mostly Coke, with just a dash of Jack on top. She was still crazy, but more manageable. We were essentially the puppeteers managing this poor young lady, trying to save her from herself.'
Drink and drugs combined dangerously on May 2 this year, as Britney launched a series of brief comeback concerts in California.
An emotional entanglement with rock wildman Howie Day, who Britney had met in rehab, sent her even further off the rails.
'She was, in my opinion, close to an overdose,' says Barretto.
'She was supposed to be performing in concert at Anaheim that night, but she'd been out with this guy and hadn't come home. We finally found her in The Mondrian hotel in West Hollywood.'
Britney's fling with Day, the 26-year-old lead singer of Collide, presented unique problems for the security team.
In 2004, Day was arrested for allegedly locking a female fan in a bathroom after she refused his sexual advances.
He then broke the cell phone of another woman trying to call police, according to a criminal complaint.
History looked as though it was about to repeat itself.
Britney's security chief found that the rock star would not let Britney out of the room.
'We finally found the room. We didn't know if he was armed. I told my partner, “Your job is to get Britney. I'll control the guy. I'm a big guy. I'll take a shot.” I'd take a bullet for her.
'We entered and the room was a mess. Dozens of bottles of hard liquor from the mini-bar were mostly empty.
'There were cigarettes, and what appeared to be narcotics next to the bed, straws and a powder that appeared to be cocaine. Across the room was a glass pipe for smoking drugs.
'He was on the bed in his boxers. Her eyes were huge. She was upset, kept shaking, biting her nails and sweating. She was really high. My partner said she was the worst he'd ever seen.'
Barretto coaxed Britney on to the tour bus headed to her concert, but en route she began to fade. Britney performed that night, but lip-synced the wrong words, and was out of it, said observers.
'On the way home her behaviour was weird. She was still fidgeting, wound down the car window and screamed, “I'm a rock star” at passing cars.
'She talked in weird voices, and was sweating. It was drugs – and she displayed the same behaviour at other times in front of the kids.
'I've seen her go to a salon and put on fake acrylic nails, pay for them, and she'll have bitten them off by the time she comes home.'
Even when Britney dumped Day, her behaviour remained erratic.
Despite having four bodyguards, a fleet of cars in her garage and more in storage, she enjoys driving herself around Los Angeles with the paparazzi in wild pursuit.
'She'd put the kids at risk by driving on the wrong side of the road into oncoming traffic for no reason at all, along windy roads up in the hills. I was in the car behind, going, “Oh my God!” The kids were in the back seat.
'She ended up making illegal U-turns, going through red lights. She almost got hit twice on the wrong side of the road. I was sweating.'
Last week, Britney was charged with hit-and-run and driving without a licence.
It came as no surprise to Barretto, who was with Britney when she took her California driver's test earlier this year – and failed.
'We took her to the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) to take her driving test,' he recalls.
'They took her to a private room, but she didn't pass. She failed the written test horribly. She got only three answers correct out of 35. She was too intimidated to take the test again.
'But she kept driving with the kids. She gets stopped by the police, and they make her get out and go over to the passenger side so a friend can drive.
'She may have a valid licence in Louisiana, but I don't think she has one here. On one occasion she left home driving with Jack Daniels in a Styrofoam cup. Fortunately she wasn't stopped by the police then.
'One morning she asked us to get a private jet to take her to Puerto Rico. It was £30,000, with a £20,000 cancellation fee. That afternoon she was ready to go, but at the last minute said she never asked us to get a jet. She paid the cancellation fee.
'She'd driven to the Four Seasons hotel hundreds of times, but one day she got lost. Another time she parked outside a sushi restaurant, then came out and couldn't find her car, though it hadn't moved.
'She smokes a lot, but one day she opened the door to the green room at one concert and gave me her cigarettes and lighter. She said, “Can you take these for me, honey? I'm quitting smoking.” An hour later she had somebody digging through the trash to get them back.'
Despite her celebrity, Britney is insecure, even in her own home.
'She always seemed concerned about her look,' says Barretto. 'We always took pictures of her before she went out every day.
'She'd ask, “Do I look nice, y'all?” We didn't want to put her down. Even though she looked a sight, we'd say she looked great.'
The job had strange perks, Barretto admits. 'She was often naked, and would tease people provocatively. She'd walk around the house naked.
'I got the grand view at the Millennium Dance Studios in North Hollywood, where she was rehearsing for her comeback concert tour.
'She wanted to change clothes, so she just dropped her pants and was completely exposed. Jesus, my wife wouldn't do that in front of me. I felt very uncomfortable, and turned around. I was embarrassed for her.
'She took photos of herself topless holding flowers over her breasts during a break at a recording studio: just immature, borderline mental instability.
'One night at a club she came up and started dancing with me. My back was to her, and she rubbed her front and breasts against my butt and ran her hands down my back.
'My partner radioed me, “She wants to dance. You dance.” When I turned around she turned and put her butt on me, bumping and grinding. I wasn't aroused. I was embarrassed.'
The weirdness began for Barretto when he was given the Spears House Rules on the day he was hired.
'Never look at her bottom,' he says.
'She doesn't wear underwear, and sometimes getting out of the car she's exposed – though I know she owns underwear, because I've seen it.
'I was briefed on how to react when I saw her nude, because she often walks around the house naked. I was told to act coy and shy, because if you look like you enjoy it, you're a pervert.'
Before joining Britney, Barretto worked as a bounty hunter for a bail bonds service, but has also done some 'celebrity protection' he says.
For all his tough-man image, Barretto is slightly hard of hearing, as he had explained to Britney from the beginning. But it was a weakness that led to his eventual dismissal.
On May 17, he was fired, for failing to pick up a hat Britney dropped, after she asked him three times.
'I didn't hear her the first time,' he explains.
'The second, I only heard “Pick it up,” but couldn't see it. She got mad. I picked it up and handed it to her.
'When we returned home I wasn't allowed on the property,' he says sadly.
'I had to wait outside, my belongings were brought out to me, and I was given a cheque.
'At some point I lost her trust, I don't know how, and that's why I'm gone.
'I think she has a mental problem. I think and I pray she can be helped. I'm an optimist.
'She needs her family back, someone who loves her. She needs to be loved and guided in the right direction. She's immature. She has been babied so much, she doesn't accept responsibility because she's had everything so easy.
'I think perhaps she's scared. She likes to think she's invincible – “I'm Britney, bitch! I can do what I want!” – but that could be a façade.
'She cares about her career, but she has a problem that she can't control.'
After Barretto's legal declaration last week, Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Scott Gordon ruled Britney is a 'habitual, frequent and continuous' user of drink and drugs, and ordered her to undergo twice-weekly random testing to keep shared custody of her children.
'I'm so happy with the judge's decision, because it gives more structure to her life,' says Barretto.
'If she doesn't do something quick, in the next month or two, I think she'll lose her children. Now's the time to prove herself to her fans, as well as her children. I hope somebody's near and watching her at this time.
'She's in a position today that far exceeds the worst when I was with her.
Something terrible might happen ...or something great. The kids love her. Then again, they loved me, too.
'I've seen some pictures of her recently. She doesn't look happy — but that's OK. She needs help. I hope she gets it. I want to see her succeed.
'I was raised without a mum and dad. My grandparents took me away from my parents because they had me at a very young age.
'I don't want that for Britney's kids. I wish Britney the best.'