The singer Britney Spears, whose descent into a personal abyss has become a ghoulish worldwide spectator sport, yesterday left a Los Angeles hospital where she had been for two days following a fracas at her home.
She left the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, reportedly in the company of Dr Phil McGraw, who counsels people on his television programme The Dr Phil Show. Her hospital stay will hopefully prove a therapeutic coda to a week which has seen her lose access to her two sons, be sufficiently disturbed to require the attentions of police and paramedics, and to be restrained for her own safety. Something of the flavour of the resulting coverage can be gleaned from The Sun newspaper's headlines: "Crazed pop princess's shocking drug collapse pinned down and psychotic, junkie Britney at rock bottom". The paper's front page celebrated the most outr of the rumours surrounding the singer with the line "Britney on horse drugs", a reference to claims that she has become addicted to Clenbuterol. This is ordinarily given to horses to aid breathing, but has been used and abused by people, such as dieters, seeking to speed up their metabolism.
The latest troubles for the star began at her home on Thursday when she refused to hand over her two sons Sean Preston, two, and Jayden James, one to the representatives of her ex-husband, Kevin Federline. She had been enjoying a few hours' agreed access to her children, who are the subject of a bitter custody dispute. It took two to three hours to resolve the conflict, Los Angeles police officer Ana Aguirre said. Early police reports said officers thought Spears might have been under the influence of some substance, but Ms Aguirre said there was no evidence of that. Officers at the scene determined that paramedics "needed to be called" but it was unclear why, she said. "We're not aware of any type of injuries that she sustained" and she was not combative with authorities, Ms Aguirre added. This being Spears, her departing ambulance was chased down the street by some 60 to 70 paparazzi.
The following day, a court gave Federline sole custody of the children and suspended Spears's visitation rights. A further hearing will be held on 14 January. Spears lost custody of the boys in October, but had been allowed court-monitored visits three times a week.
Spears became a teen pop phenomenon nine years ago, but has struggled in recent years to regain her initial success. She made her musical comeback in October with a new single, "Gimme More", and an album, Blackout, that played strongly on radio and digital download charts and briefly hit No 2 on the US pop album charts.
Spears and Federline married in October 2004. Her life has spiralled downwards since their divorce in July. She has been photographed without underwear and appeared to be drunk and out of control in public. Famously, last February, she shaved her head in public, beat a car with an umbrella and spent a month in rehab.
A troubled star
Britney Spears in top form at the MTV Music Video Awards, when she was nominated in four categories
A week after she shaved her head, Spears's family forced her into rehab
3 January 2008
Spears turned up two hours late for a court hearing over child custody
4 January 2008
Off to hospital after refusing to hand back sons hot shots worldwide