Front Line Focus: Oops, Britney did it again

In the past the response could always be, “If you don’t want to know, then look away now”, to complaints that celebrities were taking up too much newspaper space.

You could argue that “they courted the attention in the first place”, or that “we demean only ourselves” by reading the “gossip” but at least they knew where they belonged and kept themselves very properly in the tabloids rather than the high brow broadsheets. We therefore feel justifiably outraged, if a little confused, that Britney Spears (attractive, 26-year-old, divorced mother of two), has snuck over into the “serious intellectual debate” side of things.

Regarding her multi-million pound recording successes, Britney may have little in common with the rest of us, but see her as a 20-something daughter and a few of us start to make connections. Britney is a mother of two young children – a friend of mine cried over the custody proceedings because her own child was born on the same day as one of them – and now with a messy divorce, alcohol and drug addictions, apparent breakdown, driving offences and child support battle, she starts ringing bells for large sections of the population.

Some people feel they can identify and sympathise with her. Others believe they have a right to be shocked and appalled at her antics and to unreservedly condemn her for them. Either way they want to talk, so let’s go with it and use it as an opportunity to lead on the discussions for a change and take the debate into schools and youth groups and to families in distress: the price of fame, the decision to marry or to start a family, the pressures, responsibilities and above all the needs of young children are all present here.

As we, in the UK, ask whether royalty and celebrities will be included on a national DNA database, or on ContactPoint, the database covering all children, it is reassuring to see that the rich and famous will also be held to account for their actions, that no one is treated better or worse in court because of their status (notwithstanding the hiring of top legal advisers) – and contrary to popular opinion, fathers are sometimes awarded custody. Hey, divorce is messy and painful for rich people too. Their shame is played out for all to see, but the rights of children to be kept safe remain the same. We cannot all afford the luxury of “looking away now”.

Helen Bonnick is a supervisor of school-home support workers and a social worker

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