Spearing Britney

In 1998 I learned a lesson about pop music, patience and persistence. 
Fanny Slater meets Britney Spears in 1998

My younger daughter Fanny became enamored with a pop star who at the time was unknown and starting to emerge on the music scene. For reasons that still confound me, she would play this 15 year old's video over and over  and over again wearing out the VHS tape player as well as the tapes. She would rush home from school to see if Carson Daly, then the host of TRL (Total Request Live) would be playing her newest videos on MTV. I know how much music and celebrity can drive teenagers wild having been one myself a long time ago in an era we called 1960’s. But I don’t remember being so over the top.  

When I say Fanny was over the top. I mean she cut out every picture from the teen magazines and wallpapered her room with photos of this star. We are talking about a degree of crazy that was so hyper focused on this budding singer that I think the entire year of eighth grade was spent studying every possible biographical fact known about this artist and totally ignoring classes at Ravenscroft. If it were a class, Fanny would have gotten straight A's in Britney.

Backstage passes and tickets from Britney's Tour in 1998
When Fanny told me that Britney Spears was having her first concert performance EVER and she had to go I knew I was in trouble. How could I say no? I had rarely seen this degree of passion and intensity for anything in Fanny’s life. Britney inspired Fanny to pick up the guitar and it was clear that this music was like a shot of adrenalin awakening something inside of my daughter. A switch was turned on.

At the time, I worked in the snack food industry as head of marketing for a company that did a lot of promotional sponsorships with everything from professional wrestling (Macho Man Randy Savage), Nascar (Bobby and Terry Labonte) and Country Music (George Strait Tour). I had a few connections with people who had connections so I asked one of my contacts if he could get me a couple of tickets to a concert for this young rising artist Britney Spears. As luck would have it, my friend’s company was the booking agent for the tour so he helped me get 2 tickets to the first concert in Jacksonville, Florida.

Fanny celebrates another birthday with Britney, family and friends

So with great fanfare I told my daughter that indeed we would be going to see Britney live on her very first tour. We got used to seeing Britney at Fanny's birthday parties. (Okay it was a poster of Britney but she became ever present). This was the real deal and Fanny was so excited.

Technically Britney was performing in many cities during this initial tour and she was the opening act to another band whose name escapes me. (It could have been Boyz to Men or something like that-I don't remember). But we had great seats and I thought it would be an important father/daughter bonding experience. With Sony Walkman in hand and plenty of sharpies for autographs, we headed south in search of Britney.

I didn’t realize that Fanny had a plan.

It involved stalking…or should I say waiting for Britney to show up at the hotel so that we could get to meet her. In Fanny’s thirteen year old sugar glazed head, she thought that when we went up to Britney she would invite us to have lunch together and we could spend hours chatting and enjoying Cajun cooking and tales of the Bayou. Oy vey.

We got into Jacksonville the day before the concert and immediately headed over to the Marriott hotel. We weren’t staying at a Marriott but through the pre-Google research Fanny had done, she knew that Britney’s tour always went to a Marriott and that we only had to figure out which Marriott in Jacksonville she would be staying. Remember, Jacksonville is a pretty big city so I think we checked several hotels before finding the right Marriott with a huge touring bus outside. We hit the jackpot. This was the place. Plus Fanny recognized Britney’s body guard who was about six feet tall and six feet wide and had a name like Q or M or some single letter from the alphabet.

As we walked into the hotel lobby I spied some really comfortable sofas and I told Fanny that I was going to sit down and read while she wandered around the hotel searching for any Britney intel.  She talked to some professional dancers who were part of the tour and tried to glean whatever she could possibly learn about where in the hotel was Britney.

A teenage girl stalking a pop star seemed normal but a 44 year old man is another thing. So I took out my book- The Pillars of The Earth and started to read through Tom Follett's 800 page masterpiece about the building of a cathedral in the Middle Ages. I guess we were both lost in our own sanctuaries.

Hours passed and no sign of Britney or any other celebrities and I stared to think how foolish all of this was. Here we were sitting waiting for a special moment to capture Fanny with Britney on film. I didn’t think it would happen and I felt like this was such a waste of time. I really wanted to leave but took a deep breath and said...maybe I needed just a little more patience.

Sometime late in the afternoon after hours of endlessly sitting around drinking too much bad hotel coffee and reading about flying buttresses on cathedrals, I told Fanny that nature called and that I would be heading to the bathroom. She said that she was going to walk around the parking lot and could she take my camera with her. She said that she had a strong feeling that something might happen and she didn’t want to miss the moment. Off she went.

For those of you not experts in the history of Britney and her personal relationships, she was alleged to be dating Justin Timberlake at the time. She and Justin were on a Disney show (The Mickey Mouse Club) together when they were younger and rumor had it they were an item. I’m so embarrassed that I know these facts but you have to understand that Fanny would tell me details and Britney trivia that to this day remain stuck in my head. (Britney wore the number twenty five on her high school basketball team in Kentwood, Louisiana and for those who may be visiting a Hallmark card store, her birthday is December second).

Fanny Slater with Justin Timberlake. Autographs added at a later meeting.

When I returned from the bathroom, Fanny came rushing in toward me. Dad, I just met Justin. Someone took a picture of me with him in the parking lot. I think I am going to die. This is so awesome. I knew we were at the right hotel. We talked and he was so cool. He put his arm around me!

Six hours and thirty minutes and still no sign of Britney in the lobby…none. Not a sequin or school girl costume to be seen.  

We must have waited for close to ten hours as I was half-way through the book. I was tired and I felt like I had just built a cathedral...Tom the Builder was dead, Jack had taken over the construction of the cathedral and Pryor Philip was regaining new authority. I was clearly in another century within the pages of my novel but Fanny was present in the lobby of the Marriott patiently waiting for to meet her idol.

Finally, after hours of waiting , a young girl in a bright red shirt and sun glasses came bouncing out of the elevator and started walking towards us. I remember this clearly and she was walking toward where we were sitting. There wasn’t a crowd around her and she looked like most seventeen year old teenagers. Fanny froze. I mean she was speechless. She couldn’t figure out what to do or what to say. 
Britney Spears meets Fanny Slater in Jacksonville, Florida 1998
So in my best Dad voice I know, I called over and said, Britney, would you like to meet your biggest fan?”

Of course the play on the words fan and my daughter’s name Fanny didn’t occur to me at the time, but I knew that this was a moment for the ages and a story that I would tell many times.

Britney waltzed over with her hair pulled back in a clumsy pony tail, she put her cheek near Fanny's as I took my camera out of the case. I took several photographs and I knew that I had some good ones. Remember, this is a pre-digital camera when we used film to record photographs. I had to trust my skill as a photographer that I didn’t blow this moment because unlike today, I couldn’t see the photo immediately. 
Fanny, Friends and the Britmobile

As the years went on Fanny continued her love of Britney. She once decorated her sister’s white Chevy Blazer and along with John, Max, Savannah and Sarah, she drove around Raleigh with posters and signs blaring “honk if you love Britney”. I am not sure that too many people honked at the Britmobile but its one of those moments that is burned in my mind from her childhood. Fanny as usual was on a mission and it was hilarious. A pure Fanny moment.

Fanny and I continued to go to Britney concerts together- once traveling to three consecutive concerts over three days from Raleigh to Washington to Camden. At each event, we had backstage passes arranged by my friend with the connections. By the third event in New Jersey, I remember Britney saying to us…“didn’t I just see you last night in Washington? You guys look familiar”.


Years later when Britney’s reputation really went south, I know Fanny had a tough time talking about her obsession with Britney. There was a tinge of embarrassment from these moments from childhood. Yet, I always sensed its importance and that the essence of the experience would remain forever. What that experience meant to Fanny is starting to emerge through her own words in a blog she writes called from Raleighwood to Hollywood. You can read it at http://raleighwoodtohollywood.blogspot.com/ 

Living in Hollywood in search of her own fame and fortune, I know that there is a bit of persistence, motivation and drive that were fueled by this adolescent preoccupation. Speared along by Britney, Fanny is now on her own journey. Fanny knows that her Mom, Sister (our Sarah), best friend (her Sara) and I all unconditionally love and support her as do the rest of her family and friends.

The most importance lesson of all is that Fanny knows that she is already a success just by following her dreams.  

Oh baby, baby…I wouldn’t change a thing.

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