Alli Sims hasn’t spoken to her cousin Britney Spears since she said Spears’ father threatened her more than a decade ago.
In January 2008, as James “Jamie” Spears sought control of his daughter's affairs, Sims said she received a call warning something would happen to her if she did not cease communicating with the pop icon.
“He 100 percent was threatening me with my life,” said Sims, who left her job working for celebrity event planner Mindy Weiss to move in with Spears as a paid assistant in 2007. “I didn’t put it past him, so I didn’t answer" her calls again.
The conservatorship that has confined Spears to the control of her father and a handful of lawyers for 13 years is the subject of “Framing Britney Spears,” a documentary by The New York Times that follows her rise to stardom and the media pressure that is often blamed for her public breakdown in 2007.
“How do you watch that documentary and be in it and live in that and not say anything when it has gone on for so long?” Sims told NBC News in her first interview in more than a decade.
The ongoing legal battle between Spears and her father has led to a resurgence of the #FreeBritney movement, which started on social media and has brought awareness to potential civil rights abuses in legal conservatorships.
It has also elevated the conversation around Spears’ legacy from tabloid fodder into a collective reckoning over the public’s complicity in her downfall, which Sims witnessed while living with Spears in the year before the conservatorship went into effect.
Some individuals who were part of Spears’ past as she ascended to stardom are now grappling with their own responsibility in the events that contributed to her undoing, which has left her in a legal battle for control over her personal and financial affairs.
In a public apology to Spears and Janet Jackson posted to Instagram on Friday, Spears’ high profile ex-boyfriend Justin Timberlake called the entertainment industry “flawed” and acknowledged he had personally “benefited from a system that condones misogyny and racism” and is skewed toward positioning privileged white men for success.
“As a man in a privileged position I have to be vocal about this,” he wrote in the post after years of staying largely silent throughout Spears’ mental health struggles and harsh treatment.
“Wow,” Sims said Friday after learning about the post. “You know everybody makes mistakes, and he wasn't perfect.”
Timberlake once bragged about sleeping with the singer and launched his solo career on an album that cast him as a doting romantic and Spears as a cheater. Late night hosts skewered Spears in their monologues.
“For it to all fall in her lap and her be blamed for everything was just not right,” Sims said.
Even 13 years removed from the scenes that play out in the documentary, which she described as "accurate," Sims said the experience still impacts her.
The fear of misrepresentation Sims endured in that era alongside one of the biggest celebrities in the world also exposed her, she said, to scrutiny and contributed to her hesitancy to speak publicly for so long.
Sims acknowledged how the optics of some situations the pair found themselves in might have been perceived, but she said she rejects the narrative that is often advanced in the media that shames women as enjoying that attention.
“Just because I was smiling in a photo going through a drive-thru doesn’t mean that I wanted the attention,” Sims said. “I would have much rather been able to drive around town with nobody bothering us.”
Mundane activities like going to Starbucks for a coffee or picking up groceries put Sims in increasingly dangerous situations.
“We were so exposed,” she said.
The extremes Sims and Spears experienced from media attention often had the pair outnumbered by paparazzi in aggressive pursuits through the streets of Los Angeles or even in Spears’ own backyard, where helicopters were sometimes a fixture tracking Spears’ every move, Sims said.
“There’s so many of them,” she said of the paparazzi. “You’re completely surrounded with them. You’re at their mercy.”
“It definitely affects you. I mean, this affects me and it has been 13 years.”
Sims had some of the most traumatic scenes alongside Spears, including the night in 2007 that produced arguably some of the most indelible images of the singer battering a paparazzo’s vehicle with an umbrella handle.
Sims has since left Hollywood and lives in Louisiana with her husband and 9-year-old daughter.
“We have fun and enjoy life and there’s no, you know, real drama,” she said.
“It’s nice and normal.”
Although Sims said she does not miss the everyday madness when Spears was hounded by the media, she does miss their friendship.
“Do I miss her as a person and think about her all the time? Yes,” she said. “She’s all over the place still. You can’t help but think about her every day.”
Sims said she did not know what to do to help Spears in the time leading up to the conservatorship. In January 2008, when Spears underwent two involuntary psychiatric holds, Sims said Spears would sometimes reach out to her using random people’s phones when hers was taken away to ask for help.
“The situation had become way over my head at that point and her dad and other people were involved,” she said.
“I really do believe (Jamie) would have done something if I didn't remove myself from the situation,” Sims said.
Jamie Spears’ attorneys have not responded to NBC News’ request for comment.
Sims said she carries “a lot of guilt,” adding she got numerous calls from her cousin that she did not answer after Jamie Spears’ alleged threat to stay away.
“I can't imagine how alone she felt,” she said.
“When I think about how long she has had to endure this and it being 13 years, it just makes me so sad for her. I really do hope one day she's able to tell her story if that's what she wants to do. If she does, get ready because there's more to that story than I'm sure anybody could ever imagine.”