Byline: Peter Sheridan
STANDING 6ft 7in tall and weighing more than 32 stone, Tony Barretto isa born bodyguard.
His strength, his power and his intimidating physique have never beenquestioned - and neither has his loyalty.
He would, as he put it, 'have taken a bullet' for Britney Spears and herchildren.
In three months working for her, Barretto grew genuinely fond of the troubledsinger, often caring for the two boys when Britney was unwell, otherwiseengaged, or plain 'out of it'.
There was screaming, there was shouting, there was selfishness on an epicscale, but such things are all in a day's work for a professional minder Sowhat could prompt this softlyspoken 27-year-old to become the 'secret witness'whose testimony under oath so gravely damaged Britney's child-custody battlelast week? His revelations, kept under seal by the judge, went unchallenged incourt, seriously hurting Britney's chances of keeping the children.
But while some may suppose him to be motivated by revenge against an employerwho dispensed with his services earlier this year, Tony Barretto has adifferent story to tell.
And it is all the more explosive for its heartfelt sincerity.
Today, for the first time, Barretto speaks about the fear, the heartache and,at times, the sheer horrors of working alongside Britney.
He fears not just for her future, but for all those close to her. Barretto, aformer private investigator and celebrity bodyguard, from Ventura, California,claims he saw Britney abuse narcotics and alcohol and that she neglected herchildren to the point of putting them at serious physical risk.
Indeed the frequent screaming bouts and episodes of depression left him fearingthe singer might kill herself or even harm her children Preston, aged two, andJayden, one.
It is a portrait of a troubled life that raises disturbing questions, not justabout her chaotic private life, but about her suitability as a role model tomillions of teenagers. Scarcely a day goes by without fawning coverage of herantics in the world media.
Spears has been a wreck ever since filing for divorce from husband KevinFederline last November.
Her self-destructive behaviour and wild partying led her to shave off her hairin February - an episode that has never been fully explained - and to seek helpin a 'rehab clinic' the following month.
And that was when Barretto became involved, hired, as one of her fourbodyguards on March 26, days after she left rehab. He quickly found thatprotecting the singer was the least of his duties.
'I was surprised to find how much the job involved looking after her kids,' hesays. 'She was always passing the kids along to us. If they were happy, she washappy. If they weren't happy, she was passing them on to the nanny or thesecurity staff. We were the only family around her. She'd call a doctor to S 'We were puppeteers managing this poor young trying save her from herself 'comeout if they cried too much.
'She'd say: "Can you grab the baby, honey?" She always called me "baby" or"honey". I don't think she ever learned my name.
'She'd tell me, "We're going for a tan. Can you take the baby?" And then she'dwalk off. She wouldn't really ask me; she'd just leave.' If Britney wasimperiously selfindulgent, Barretto also found more disturbing traits.
'There was a time when I thought she was going to hurt the kids,' he confirmsrubbing the dark eyes behind the spectacles. 'She sent the nanny home. She senther best friend and personal assistant, Alli Sims, home. Britney hates to bealone, so this was worrying.
'One of the bodyguards who had been with her longest said she was beginning toshut down as she had just before she shaved her head. He said she'd beentalking about suicide then, and this was the same. Britney was sobbing. Shescreamed.' Sensing danger, his colleague said: 'I'm worried about the kids.Don't let her go swimming with them.' 'Shocked, I asked, "Is she going to drownthem?" He said, "I don't know." I started to cry. How am I supposed to protectsomeone like that?' Fortunately, they stayed out of the water - and safe from amother clearly under stress.
Barretto believes her recent problems stem from the divorce with Federline.'She wanted Kevin back, and she wouldn't have it that he is gone,' he explains.'I think she was screaming in frustration. She lost the love of her life. Ithink she's scarred from this.
She calls him and tries to be passive, but it usually turns into yellingmatches. She flung her phone out of the car during one argument. Then sheborrowed my partner's phone, and smashed that during another row.' Others,however, believe that the tantrums, the selfishness and the ever more frequentbouts of despair have deeper roots.
This, after all, is a girl who grew up on a Louisiana trailer park among thepoorest of the American poor, to a family which, if desperate to succeed, wasalso prone to violence.
Put on a treadmill of singing lessons, dance lessons and auditions, she wasthen dragged thousands of miles around America as her parents looked for ashowbiz opening.
Eventually it came, in the shape of the massive hits Oops! I Did It Again and... Baby One More Time, in which the teenager played out a sexually loadedparody of teenage innocence.
A celebrity lifestyle - of sorts, at least - quickly followed. Britney's[pounds sterling]6million hilltop home sits in the exclusive gated community of The Summit,boasting spectacular views across the San Fernando Valley in California. Aguard house blocks the main gate, and visitors have to cross a second fencebefore they reach the house itself.
'It was surprisingly homely,' recalls Barretto. 'It's very dark inside. There 'were puppeteers managing poor young lady, to her herself isn't a lot oflighting. She spends much of her time in the bedroom, but there were severalliving rooms tastefully decorated. It was very comfortable.' And with thecelebrity house comes the servants - in the shape of her bodyguards who musthave cigarettes and lighters permanently at the ready.
'I was at her beck and call to do whatever she asked,' he says. 'I oftenwatched her kids, and helped her install an antique chandelier.
Another guard once did her laundry.
'She doesn't treat her staff like slaves, but she's so self-obsessed that shedoesn't think about the people around her.' Among Barretto's many tasks was 'fetching her wake-up coffee, and Britney is a creature of routine.
'Typically she wakes around one or two in the afternoon,' he says. 'We get hertwo drinks from Starbucks: a hot large vanilla latte, and a cold mochaFrappuccino. We'd ask if she wants a hot or a cold.
'She goes tanning almost daily in Bel Air, on a UV tanning bed. Then she'lldecide whether to have a manicure there. She loves sushi, so she'll often havethat for breakfast, even though it's lunchtime.
'Through the day she snacks on crisps, and loves Coke, Special K cereal and RedBull energy drinks.
'When she goes shopping sometimes we'll close down the whole store, other timesan entire aisle..
' She likes to rent cars and drive them around. She wanted the newest Jaguar,but was upset that it wasn't white. We only found a black one. In the afternoonshe'd come home and swim. Then she'd go out to dinner and a club.'
BRITNEY tolerates the paparazzi, who reciprocate by feeding her parking metersand getting her coffees.
She is routinely pictured with Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, often in statesof undress.
There is no shortage of money.
According to Barretto, she carries no cash, like the Queen, although B this isprobably the only point of comparison. 'She only has a solid titanium creditcard with no limit,' says Barretto.
'She could buy a jet if she wanted.
Her bodyguards carry cash for her.
She buys things, we pay.' But no amount of money, it seems, will solve hercurrent woes. 'She's unpredictable. No one knows what she'll do next. That'swhat scared me.
I don't know what caused her screaming, whether it was drugs or mentalinstability. She'd be wailing, making no sense. It was worse at night.
'She'd scream and guards would run to check on her, just in case it was a snakeor an intruder. I'd ask how she was, and she'd say, "I'm OK." Sometimes thebaby was in the room when she screamed, and the guards would grab him. We had asecurity room beside the main house, with a couch and TV, and she'd frequentlybring the kids in there to hang out with us. We'd say, "We're not bodyguarding;we're babysitting." But we were babysitting Britney, as well as her kids.
'There were times when she spent very little time with them, some days lessthan an hour. And she's not very good at knowing whether they eat or needchanging. I don't think I ever saw her feed her kids at home.
'Once she took the kids to the dance studio and didn't bring any food for them.She sent someone out to get them soup and crackers.
'She'd smoke around the house, and though she wouldn't smoke in front of thechildren, her clothes absorbed the smoke and I'm sure that made the baby cry.
'In my opinion, it was a child taking care of children. I wouldn't have her asa babysitter. The harder it was to comfort them, the likelier we'd end up withthe children. She had a low attention span. She'd become bored with anything.'Whether from boredom or some more deep-seated need, she turned to drugs, saysBarretto.
'I've seen her take narcotics in nightclubs on only two occasions, but herdrugged behaviour - fidgety, nervous, jumpy - I've seen at her home, too, so Iassume she was on drugs at home,' he says. 'At the club, she was snorting apowdery substance, which I assume to be cocaine or methamphetamine.
'The first time she was at Teddy's nightclub in Hollywood in April, in aprivate booth. She asked me to hold the curtains up around it. After 20 minutesI looked over my shoulder, and she was snorting something out of her hand witha straw.
'One night I opened the restroom door after she'd been in there half an hour,and saw her snorting from a straw again.' Barretto never saw Britney buy drugs,but says: 'She'd sneak out of the house on her own without security.
Sometimes she'd be gone till the next morning. It was an unspoken subject, justas nobody ever asked her about drugs.' Britney spent a month being treated forher addictions at Promises clinic in Malibu, but Barretto says: 'Rehab did herno good at all. I think she leads a secret lifestyle and hides it from thoseshe doesn't trust. She gets upset with the notion of having to go there.'Alcohol, too, appears a problem.
'She was supposed to be sober after rehab, but she loved her Jack Daniels andCoke,' says Barretto.
HE CLAIMS: 'She'd always drink it in a Styrofoam cup, so nobody could see whatshe was drinking.
'I'd order for her, and the waitress would hand me the drink. Britney wouldwalk upstairs to a private restroom to drink it.
'She'd have a pint glass filled with Jack Daniels and Coke. I hated it, becausewe had to go up and down those stairs all night so she could drink in secret.When she asked for a Jack and Coke, we'd give her mostly Coke, with just a dashof Jack on top.
She was still crazy, but more manageable.
We were essentially the puppeteers managing this poor young lady, trying tosave her from herself.' Drink and drugs combined dangerously on May 2 thisyear, as Britney launched a series of brief comeback concerts in California.
An emotional entanglement with rock wildman Howie Day, who Britney had met inrehab, sent her even further off the rails. 'She was, in my opinion, close toan overdose,' says Barretto.
'She was supposed to be performing in concert at Anaheim that night, but she'dbeen out with this guy and hadn't come home. We finally found her in TheMondrian hotel in West Hollywood.' Britney's fling with Day, the 26- year-oldlead singer of Collide, presented unique problems for the security team.
In 2004, Day was arrested for allegedly locking a female fan in a bathroomafter she refused his sexual advances. He then broke the cell phone of anotherwoman trying to call police, according to a criminal complaint. History lookedas though it was about to repeat itself.
Britneys security chief found that the rock star would not let Britney out ofthe room.
We finally found the room. We didnt know if he was armed. I told my partner,Your job is to get Britney. Ill control the guy. Im a big guy. Ill take a shot.Id take a bullet for her.
We entered and the room was a mess. Dozens of bottles of hard liquor from themini-bar were mostly empty. There were cigarettes, and what appeared to benarcotics next to the bed, straws and a powder that appeared to be cocaine.Across the room was a glass pipe for smoking drugs.
He was on the bed in his boxers. Her eyes were huge. She was upset, keptshaking, biting her nails and sweating. She was really high. My partner saidshe was the worst hed ever seen. Barretto coaxed Britney on to the tour busheaded to her concert, but en route she began to fade. Britney performed thatnight, but lip-synced the wrong words, and was out of it, said observers.
On the way home her behaviour was weird. She was still fidgeting, wound downthe car window and screamed, Im a rock star at passing cars.
She talked in weird voices, and was sweating. It was drugsand she displayed the same behaviour at other times in front of the kids.
Ive seen her go to a salon and put on fake acrylic nails, pay for them, andshell have bitten them off by the time she comes home. Even when Britney dumpedDay, her behaviour remained erratic. Despite having four bodyguards, a fleet ofcars in her garage and more in storage, she enjoys driving herself around LosAngeles with the paparazzi in wild pursuit.
Shed put the kids at risk by driving on the wrong side of the road intooncoming traffic for no reason at all, along windy roads up in the hills. I wasin the car behind, going, Oh my God! The kids were in the back seat.
She ended up making illegal Uturns, going through red lights. She almost gothit twice on the wrong side of the road. I was sweating.
Last week, Britney was charged with hit-and-run and driving without a licence.It came as no surprise to Barretto, who was with Britney when she took herCalifornia drivers test earlier this year and failed.
We took her to the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) to take her driving test,he recalls.
They took her to a private room, but she didnt pass. She failed the writtentest horribly. She got only three answers correct out of 35. She was toointimidated to take the test again.
But she kept driving with the kids. She gets stopped by the police, and theymake her get out and go over to the passenger side so a friend can drive. Shemay have a valid licence in Louisiana, but I dont think she has one here. Onone occasion she left home driving with Jack Daniels in a Styrofoam cup.Fortunately she wasnt stopped by the police then.
One morning she asked us to get a private jet to take her to Puerto Rico. Itwas [pounds sterling]30,000, with a [pounds sterling]20,000 cancellation fee. That afternoon she was ready togo, but at the last minute said she never asked us to get a jet. She paid thecancellation fee.
Shed driven to the Four Seasons hotel hundreds of times, but one day she gotlost. Another time she parked outside a sushi restaurant, then came out andcouldnt find her car, though it hadnt moved.
She smokes a lot, but one day she opened the door to the green room at oneconcert and gave me her cigarettes and lighter.
She said, Can you take these for me, honey? Im quitting smoking. An hour latershe had somebody digging through the trash to get them back. Despite hercelebrity, Britney is insecure, even in her own home. She always seemedconcerned about her look, says Barretto. We always took pictures of her beforeshe went out every day.
Shed ask, Do I look nice, yall? We didnt want to put her down. Even though shelooked a sight, wed say she looked great. The job had strange perks, Barrettoadmits. She was often naked, and would tease people provocatively. Shed walkaround the house naked.
I got the grand view at the Millennium Dance Studios in North Hollywood, whereshe was rehearsing for her comeback concert tour.
She wanted to change clothes, so she just dropped her pants and was completelyexposed. Jesus, my wife wouldnt do that in front of me. I felt veryuncomfortable, and turned around. I was embarrassed for her.
She took photos of herself topless holding flowers over her breasts during abreak at a recording studio, just immature, borderline mental instability
. One night at a club she came up and started dancing with me. My back was toher, and she rubbed her front and breasts against my butt and ran her handsdown my back. My partner radioed me, She wants to dance. You dance. When Iturned around she turned and put her butt on me, bumping and grinding. I wasntaroused. I was embarrassed. The weirdness began for Barretto when he was giventhe Spears House Rules on the day he was hired. Never look at her bottom, hesays. She doesnt wear underwear, and sometimes getting out of the car shesexposedthough I know she owns underwear, because Ive seen it. I was briefed on how toreact when I saw her nude, because she often walks around the house naked. Iwas told to act coy and shy, because if you look like you enjoy it, youre apervert. Before joining Britney, Barretto worked as a bounty hunter for a bailbonds service, but has also done some celebrity protection he says. For all histough-man image, Barretto is slightly hard of hearing, as he had explained toBritney from the beginning. But it was a weakness that led to his eventualdismissal. On May 17, he was fired, for failing to pick up a hat Britneydropped, after she asked him three times. I didnt hear her the first time, heexplains. The second, I only heard Pick it up, but couldnt see it. She got mad.I picked it up and handed it to her. When we returned home I wasnt allowed onthe property, he says sadly. I had to wait outside, my belongings were broughtout to me, and I was given a cheque.
At some point I lost her trust, I dont know how, and thats why Im gone. I thinkshe has a mental problem. I think and I pray she can be helped. Im an optimist.
She needs her family back, someone who loves her.
She needs to be loved and guided in the right direction.
Shes immature. She has been babied so much, she doesnt accept responsibilitybecause shes had everything so easy.
I think perhaps shes scared. She likes to think shes invincibleIm Britney, bitch! I can do what I want! but that could be a facade.
She cares about her career, but she has a problem that she cant control.
After Barrettos legal declaration last week, Los Angeles Superior CourtCommissioner Scott Gordon ruled Britney is a habitual, frequent and continuoususer of drink and drugs, and ordered her to undergo twice-weekly random testingto keep shared custody of her children.
Im so happy with the judges decision, because it gives more structure to herlife, says Barretto.
If she doesnt do something quick, in the next month or two, I think shell loseher children. Nows the time to prove herself to her fans, as well as herchildren. I hope somebodys near and watching her at this time.
Shes in a position today that far exceeds the worst when I was with her.Something terrible might happen ... or something great. The kids love her. Thenagain, they loved me, too.
Ive seen some pictures of her recently. She doesnt look happybut thats OK. She needs help. I hope she gets it. I want to see her succeed.
I was raised without a mum and dad. My grandparents took me away from myparents because they had me at a very young age.
I dont want that for Britneys kids. I wish Britney the best.…