In a post on Instagram yesterday Britney Spears wrote: “I just got back from mass...I’m Catholic now...let us pray.”
The 39-year-old pop star was raised in a strict Baptist household and is a regular churchgoer, but has had a troubled relationship with her family and her fame.
Her apparent swim across the Tiber is the latest chapter in a story that began with Britney bursting into the public gaze in a Catholic schoolgirl uniform in the music video for Baby One More Time.
Thrust into international celebrity as a teenager, and presented as a sex symbol, she suffered greatly from the prurience of the press and attempts from various figures in her life to control her life and her fortune, and struggled with drink and drugs.
She has recently been in the headlines due to her ongoing court battles to free herself from the “conservatorship” established by her father in 2008 which gives him huge amounts of power over both the star’s daily life and her finances, an arrangement she has described as “abusive”.
Initially lauded by the press, the singer’s troubles and demonisation and hounding by the media has not dented her popularity amongst fans.
As the manicured commercial image fell apart, the unexpected happened: a wave of sympathy and affection from the public. It was Britney’s fans – nicknamed “the Britney Army” – who were amongst the first to notice her plight and unhappiness and began suggesting she was being controlled.
Under the terms of the conservatorship even Britney’s fertility and ability to marry are not in her hands:
“I was told right now in the conservatorship, I’m not able to get married or have a baby. I have an [IUD] inside of myself right now so I don’t get pregnant. I wanted to take the [IUD] out so I could start trying to have another baby.
“But this so-called team won’t let me go to the doctor to take it out because they don’t want me to have children – any more children.”
Britney has promised to reveal more about her conversion in a future video, and has spoken on her Instagram account in a previous post of her relief at progress and public attention in regards to her conservatorship.
“OK, so I'm sure you guys are wondering how I'm doing,” she said. “And since the cat is out of the bag, literally, out of the bag, um and you guys know my situation... I do wanna let you guys know that things are way better than I ever anticipated.”
Growing up in Mississippi, a deeply conservative and religious state, and singing in her church choir, she has long struggled with her personal faith and the conflicting demands of American conservatism and individualism.
She was denounced by the the American Family association as “a disturbing mix of childhood innocence and adult sexuality” who called on “God-loving Americans to boycott stores selling Britney's albums”.
In America’s protestant religious culture sensuality and faith were considered opposites, and the young Baptist girl was offered the old dichotomy of virgin and whore.
Greatly influenced by fellow iconoclastic pop star and friend Madonna, she briefly flirted with Kabbalah, becoming extremely involved in the Kabbalah Centre in LA. However the familiar story of the often naïve Britney repeated itself, with the Centre “hassling her for money” and demanding she “tithe” her income, and they fell out. Soon enough she was announcing that her “baby was her religion” and was consulting a “Christian life coach” about her marriage.
Although much about Britney Spear’s life is mysterious, she has apparently been more committed to her Christian faith, commenting on her regular churchgoing in social media posts, noting that she “always takes the time to go to church even on vacation”.
Messages of support and welcome have already flooded in across social media. Replies on Instagram were overwhelmingly enthusiastic: “TAKE US TO CHURCH!!!” said one user, whilst a Catholic fan wrote “I’m glad you found your way back to the Lord God, he was always with you, even in your hardest times. God bless you and welcome to the Catholic Church.”