Byline: Alison Jones
The rules were simple when it came to interviewing Britney Spears. No questions about her rumoured-to-be-ex boyfriend Justin Timberlake, no questions about virginity (is she or isn't she?) and no questions about September 11.
Her minders were clearly determined that during our time with pop princess we should only be permitted to paddle in the shallow end of her psyche.
Should we stray from these pre-set guidelines there was always the silent threat of her formidable bodyguard, a brooding behemoth whose bulk threatened the fragile chairs at the up-market London hotel, where Britney was staying while in town to promote her new film.
Outside young fans milled about anxious for an autograph, their numbers incongruously swelled by besuited businessmen clutching briefcases.
Inside the only thing that a giggling and coy Britney was revealing to the assembled press pack was her taut midriff.
Looking deeply tanned and healthy (clearly heartache agrees with her), Britney's movie making experience was proving to be far more positive than that of her chart rival Mariah Carey.
Mariah reportedly went into some kind of mental meltdown after her first star vehicle, Glitter, was deservedly savaged by the critics last year.
Left alone to carry the film, her shortcomings as an actress were brutally exposed as she reacted to the camera like a deer caught in headlights.
As past history shows that very few pops stars manage to make the transition from stage to screen (dare we mention Madonna?) it would have been unfair to expect much from Miss Spears. So why did she risk it?
'It was something I wanted to do. Creatively I was on my third tour and I wanted to express myself in a different way, to challenge myself and see if I could do it. It just made sense and the door was open.'
Happily she emerges from Cross Roads (not to be confused with the Midlands motel soap) with her dignity intact and the possibility of a new career stretching ahead of her.
The movie itself is an undemanding yet sweet coming-of-age romantic comedy. Part Roadtrip, part A Star is Born, Britney plays one of three high school girlfriends who drive across America in order for one of them to enter a singing competition and for Britney's character, Lucy, to meet the mother who deserted her.
They are accompanied by a musician and ex-convict Ben (Anson Mount), with whom Britney shares a much hyped, though very discreet - it is a PG certificate after all - love scene.
'I loved the story of Cross Roads. I was inspired by the script and the friendship that the girls have, that they all have their differences but at the end of the day they have each other to talk to,' enthused Britney.
'What I thought was cool was that it has things going on that teenagers deal with everyday. They're real issues. For teenagers to see that and realise they are not alone and at the end of the day, so long as you have your friends to talk to about it, that's what matters.
In spite of her denials that Lucy is in any way like her, she admitted that she did relate to the close relationship between the girls. Though she left her home town in Louisiana three years ago, she still clings on to her best friends from high school, Courtney, Jansen and …