From the moment she was thrust into the spotlight as a teenage pop star, Britney Spears has lived most of her life in the public gaze. Marriages, motherhood, mental health issues, family breakdown and bitter legal dispute have all played out via the unforgiving glare of the camera lens.
Others have stood alongside her in that spotlight too, among them a former backing dancer by the name of Kevin Federline.
For two years, following a whirlwind romance that started in 2004, Kevin was Britney's husband, father to her two children – Sean Preston, 16, and 15-year-old Jayden. Ever since, as his former wife's life continues to dominate headlines amid family lawsuits and harsh words on social media, he has worked hard to keep their sons out of the limelight.
Now he has broken a near decade-long silence in a wide-ranging, moving TV interview in which he talks openly for the first time about the reality of life as the former 'Mr Spears', and his ongoing battle to keep the chaos that surrounds his former wife as far removed from his sons as possible.
In a series of exclusive interviews, parts of which will be aired on ITV news this week, Kevin and his family reveal that Preston and Jayden have not seen their mother for many months – at their own behest – even though his former wife, who married American-Iranian model Sam Asghari, 28, in June, has bought a £10million mansion not far from the Federline family home in Los Angeles.
Kevin Federline (pictured with Britney Spears at a Grammy afterparty) has broken a near decade-long silence in a wide-ranging, moving TV interview in which he talks openly for the first time about the reality of life as the former 'Mr Spears', and his ongoing battle to keep the chaos that surrounds his former wife as far removed from his sons as possible
Britney's last known picture with her two sons was this snap she shared on Instagram in March 2021. The Baby One More Time star wrote in the caption: 'It's so crazy how time flies... My boys are so big now! I know I know it's very hard for any mama especially a mama with boys seeing them grow up so fast! ... I haven't posted pictures of them for some time cause they're at the age where they want to express their own identities and I totally get it .... But I went out of my way to make this cool edit and guess what.... They're finally letting me post it... Now I don't feel left out anymore'
Jayden and Kevin Federline at the house they share with his wife of nine years Victoria, plus their two daughters. They have taken part in a series of exclusive interviews, parts of which will be aired on ITV news this week
Daphne Barak with Britney and Kevin's sons, who have stayed out of the media limelight for years (far left, Jayden, while right, Preston)
Kevin insisted that Britney's two boys love their mother, despite choosing to take some time away from seeing her (Pictured: Jayden with Kevin's daughter Payton)
Britney recently married Sam Asghari in a secret wedding (pictured together) attended by Selena Gomez, Madonna and Paris Hilton. Her sons were not present
Britney lets loose on the dancefloor during her secret wedding to long-term partner Sam Asghari, 28
Britney Spears with her sons Preston and Jayden Federline at the San Diego Padres v Los Angeles Dodgers baseball game in LA on April 17 2013
All grown up: Britney's sons (Jayden left, while right, Preston) appear in an Instagram post at the end of 2021 with Kevin's pal Eddie Morales (centre)
'The boys have decided they are not seeing her right now,' Kevin reveals. 'It's been a few months since they've seen her. They made the decision not to go to her wedding.'
He also says he believes the controversial 13-year conservatorship by her father Jamie 'saved' her. Britney was finally released from the arrangement, under which many aspects of her financial and personal life were controlled, last November. But the impact her very public tribulations may be having on their teenage sons is now Kevin's driving force.
'This whole thing has been hard to watch, harder to live through, harder to watch my boys go through than anything else,' he says. 'It's been tough. It's the most challenging thing I've ever had to do in my life.'
And there have been numerous parenting challenges throughout the ongoing Britney saga. Following her release from her conservatorship last year, the 40-year-old star has remained at the centre of global attention and has taken to posting nude selfies on social media. At the time, Kevin says he felt compelled to apologise to the boys for any flak they experienced as a result.
He insists the boys love their mother, saying: 'I try to explain to them, 'Look, maybe that's just another way she tries to express herself.' But that doesn't take away from the fact of what it does to them. It's tough.' He adds: 'I can't imagine how it feels to be a teenager having to go to high school.'
While he and the boys show nothing but compassion to Britney, Kevin says he is speaking out about his estranged former wife not for retribution, but to show a hitherto untold side of this showbusiness story.
Today, the 44-year-old father's life is a world away from the frenetic chaos that accompanied his romance with a woman who went from Disney child star to global superstar. He lives quietly with his sons and wife of nine years, Victoria, an accomplished former volleyball player.
Kevin Federline pictured with Britney Spears at the Grammy's in February 2006
Federline pictured with Jayden (far left), the son he shares with Britney, and his two daughters from his later marriage to Victoria Prince, Payton (blonde hair) and Jordan
Jayden (far left) chats to Kevin Federline (centre) and Kevin's other son Kaleb (far right) during televised interview which is to begin airing next week
Acclaimed interviewer Daphne Barak (centre) with Jayden (left) and Kevin Federline (far right)
Daphne Barak chats to Kevin Federline and his now wife Victoria Prince at their sprawling home
Jayden with Kevin Federline and his daughter Jordan at the home they share. Jayden is a keen piano player and is encouraged to express himself, Kevin said
Kevin said Britney's sons find it 'tough' when she posts almost nude photos of herself on social media
Sweet-natured, artistic-minded boys, Preston and Jayden have clearly inherited their parents' creative streaks: Preston has already started producing music and wants to take guitar lessons, while Jayden is a keen piano player. Kevin and Victoria have encouraged all their children to express themselves.
Theirs is a blended family: Kevin and Victoria also have daughters Jordan, 11, and Peyton, eight, while Kevin's eldest children – Kori, 20, and Kaleb, 18, from his prior relationship with actress Shar Jackson – are frequent visitors.
Who is acclaimed interviewer Daphne Barak?
Daphne Barak is a filmmaker and acclaimed interviewer known for broadcasts with, among others, Nelson Mandela, Hilary Clinton, Donald Trump, Michael Jackson and Johnny Depp Her best-selling book, Saving Amy, based on her time spent filming the late Amy Winehouse and her family is currently being adapted for TV by Halcyon Studios.
All six siblings are close. Kevin jokes that they are like the famous American sitcom family, The Brady Bunch, with cameras capturing them celebrating Kaleb and Kori's birthday with cake in the garden, and the boys plunging in and out of the swimming pool.
The endless drama and controversy that Britney always appears to be at the centre of seems a world away, which is exactly how Kevin and Victoria want it.
'This is a normal home, a family… full of love,' Victoria tells me. 'Whatever is happening outside has nothing to do with this home.'
But they say allowing the cameras into their home now may help Kevin's former wife understand the strain that growing up in the shadow of global superstardom can bring.
Kevin says: 'If there was a way – any way – I could possibly say something to just open [Britney's] eyes – but I haven't found that yet. I feel like, if I found that, I'd be on the phone trying to tell her.'
Kevin, who was raised in Fresno, California, would be the first to acknowledge he is no stranger to controversy himself.
He was a talented dancer when he encountered Britney in a Hollywood Club in early 2004. The timing was not ideal: Britney, then 26, had recently emerged from her 55-hour-long marriage to childhood friend Jason Alexander, whom she wed in Las Vegas, while Kevin was expecting his second child with Shar, his then girlfriend.
The less-than-perfect circumstances landed Kevin in the gossip columns from the start.
The couple's relationship – a whirlwind engagement and October 2004 wedding – unfolded against a backdrop of intense public scrutiny but did not last long. In November 2006, two months after the birth of Jayden, Spears filed for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences and asking for custody of their two sons.
Kevin was in Canada on a promotional tour at the time, and recalls being 'blindsided' when the news was broken to him as he took part in a live radio interview.
'I called my lawyer Mark Vincent Kaplan and we sat down and I told him all I care about is getting 50 per cent custody,' he recalls.
'Nothing else mattered. Nothing. I'm not the person that will take money over family.'
He says Kaplan told him: 'I will get it for you because I believe in you.'
A protracted legal fight followed, after which Kevin and Britney were duly awarded joint custody.
Over the following months, Britney embarked on a very public meltdown, dramatically shaving off her hair and being hospitalised for substance abuse. By January 2008, Federline was awarded sole legal and physical custody of their boys. The following month, she was placed under the controversial legal conservatorship.
It was a chaotic and bewildering time during which Kevin says he believes everyone tried to do their best. 'There were so many different things that were happening within a short period of time. It just all came to a head and I don't think anybody knew what to do. How can anybody prepare you?' he asks.
That conservatorship has been the subject of intense media scrutiny, heightened by the release of the 2021 documentary Framing Britney Spears, which in turn led to the growth of a worldwide movement – played out largely online – to end the conservatorship, under the hashtag 'FreeBritney'.
Four months after the documentary was screened, Britney broke her silence during a legal hearing in which she asked the judge to bring the conservatorship to an end, proclaiming: 'I just want my life back.' She added: 'It's enough and it makes no sense at all. I'm done.'
Jayden (right), son of Britney and Kevin, is pictured with photographer Erbil Gunasti at the mansion he lives in with his father
Bryan Spears, Jayden James Federline, Sean Federline, Britney Spears and niece Lexie at the Teen Choice Awards in Los Angeles back in 2015
Britney and now husband Sam Asghari get intimate in clip uploaded to the mega star's Instagram account
Her wish was granted six months later, in November 2021, when a judge officially terminated the conservatorship.
Kevin acknowledges he has his own questions about why the arrangement lasted so long, but maintains Britney's father did everything with the best intentions.
'I saw this man that really cared, and really cares about his family and wanting everything to be OK,' he says. 'When Jamie took over, things got into order. He saved her life.'
Nonetheless, he acknowledges that while their sons grew up against the backdrop of the conservatorship, it became increasingly difficult trying to explain the circumstances that surrounded it.
'They've had a lot of questions about it,' he confides. 'I don't know that I can answer all of them for them but I just tried to explain to them that your mom needed help, you know, and the people were in play to try to make that happen, to make it better.'
This has not stopped his own relationship with Jamie from experiencing its hiccups: in November 2019, Kevin took out a restraining order against his former father- in-law following claims of an altercation with one of his sons.
Today, however, with the restraining order about to expire, any rancour is ancient history.
'I would absolutely welcome Jamie Spears back in the boys' lives,' Kevin says. 'Especially if that's what the boys wanted. I don't have any hard feelings towards Jamie Spears. People make mistakes. I feel bad for him. I feel like he's been put through the wringer.'
That warmth extends equally to the rest of the family – Britney's mother Lynne, known as 'memaw' by her grandsons, brother Bryan, who lives not far away in LA, and sister Jamie Lynne.
Kevin and the boys are close to all of them, as is Victoria.
'Family is supposed to stick together, and just because they're not my immediate family, you know, they're my sons', my kids' immediate family,' Kevin says. 'They love their memaw. My priority has always been: it is about what is good for the boys.'
This extended family unit has taken on additional poignancy as Kevin reveals that both Sean Preston and Jayden have for several months now chosen not to see their mother.
The boys told me and my producer Erbil Gunasti what a painful decision it had been. They still love her, after all.
A period of relative stability followed the initial period of conservatorship and Kevin recalls peaceful co-parenting with his former wife, who he insists is, at heart, a good mother. Yet in recent years, relations between mother and sons have deteriorated.
Kevin clearly has no wish to embarrass his former wife but acknowledges he became increasingly uncomfortable with what his then younger teenage sons confided they were witnessing during their visits in recent years, although he declines to go into detail.
He just says: 'There were a lot of things going on that I didn't feel comfortable with.'
He explains that in recent months, in the wake of increasingly erratic posts by Britney on Instagram – as well as frequently posting shots of her naked body, she has launched public attacks on social media on him and members of her family – his boys have come to their own decision.
Britney embarked on a very public meltdown in the late 2000s, dramatically shaving off her hair and being hospitalised for substance abuse (Pictured: Britney during her now infamous Gimme More performance at the 2007 VMAs)
Britney Spears (C) and sons Sean Preston Federline (L) and Jayden James Federline (R) arrive at the Los Angeles Premiere 'Smurfs 2' on July 28, 2013 at Regency Village Theatre in Westwood, California
'They tried to give her the benefit of the doubt but at the same time, I can tell that sometimes, it hurts to be in that position,' he says. 'So, I made sure all my kids can come to me at any moment and discuss anything. The boys – all my kids – know that they come to me and to my wife and discuss anything.'
He adds: 'They're teenagers right now. You know, we talk about sex, we talk about drugs, we talk about all the things that teenagers go through. I want my kids to make all the mistakes they possibly can in my house, because [that way], I can protect them.'
It is one reason, Kevin reveals, that his sons did not attend Britney's recent wedding to Asghari.
While the ceremony in California was attended by a clutch of A-list celebrities, her children did not join her. '[The boys] were happy for her, but they decided that, as they're not seeing her right now, they made the decision not to go to her wedding,' he says.
It is in keeping with all of Kevin's sentiments towards his ex-wife, which remain respectful and measured. The boys are encouraged to talk about their mum with love and to understand the complexities in which her life has been mired over the years.
Victoria tells me that 'whatever is going on outside, has nothing to do what is going on inside this house!'
A sentiment echoed by Kevin. More than anything, he hopes that one day all the drama will be behind them, not just for his sons but the whole Spears clan.
'I wish for them to forgive, to reach inner peace and then peace with each other,' he says. 'One day.'
Struggling for One America, a book by Daphne Barak and Erbil Gunasti is available from Skyhorse Publishing on Amazon here.