When US comedians Tess Barker and Babs Gray started a podcast analysing Britney Spears' bizarre Instagram posts, they had no idea it would trigger a global movement to free the pop star from her abusive conservatorship.
"The joke was that we were going to take her Instagram really seriously and over-analyse it for half an hour each week," Barker told Kiwi radio hosts Jono Pryor and Ben Boyce on The Hits this morning.
Toxic: The Britney Spears Story started in May this year, and quickly gathered a following.
"But being aware of her conservatorship even from the onset, we'd look at silly things like these fashion shows she was doing, and why isn't she leaving her house much, and we started to ask questions."
Barker, who has a background in investigative journalism, became suspicious about what was really going on.
"I found some court documents indicating that the people involved with her conservatorship seemed to be taking more money than they should," she told the Hits hosts.
"So we were talking about that on the podcast and then we were contacted by a whistleblower, someone who used to work for a paralegal associated with her conservatorship, who eventually let us know that Britney had been put in a mental institution against her will. And that kind of started the whole Free Britney movement."
And for Kiwi listeners, Barker broke down what that conservatorship means.
"It's a legal arrangement that we have here in the United States and in theory it has a good reason. It's supposed to be for if somebody has a really serious sickness or illness where they are truly not able to take care of themselves, people who are really quite old, or don't have a family member who can take care of them.
"Then the court has a system in place where they can appoint someone who's going to come in charge and take care of all your medical decisions and things like that. That's essentially what it should be, but unfortunately here in the States we don't really have enough safeguards to make sure that this is only really happening from people with good intentions."
Yesterday the news broke that Britney was finally allowed to choose her own attorney - and Barker said it was a huge step forward for the case.
"She's made multiple attempts trying to hire her own attorney and the court has told her over and over again that she lacks the legal capacity to make that decision.
"But finally yesterday she got rid of the guy who's really done nothing for her for the last 13 years and brought in this really rock star, Hollywood, take no prisoners guy, so it's a pretty optimistic day for her case."
Barker hopes the legal process will now speed up.
She told the Hits hosts, "This goes on intentionally slowly a lot of times because the slower it goes, the more attorneys can get paid. So I hope that now she's got this new guy, it goes nice and quickly for her and that she has the same freedoms as any human being - just to live her life the way she wants to live it and spend the money that she's worked her a** off to earn."
Britney herself has taken notice of the podcast, reposting one of their Instagram posts to her page a couple of weeks ago. And yesterday she thanked fans for the support, using the hashtag #FreeBritney.
Barker said it was "crazy" to see how much the movement has grown.
"The movement has also started to get actual legislation changed in the US government. Our politicians are paying attention to what's going on, so it's very surreal."
This article was first published on the NZ Herald and is republished here with permission.