How Robin Leach, for the sake of charity, spent more than he expected on art his granddaughter could have made.
Britney Spears is painting on the veranda of a very large, ivy-covered house.
Grecian columns and a tiered fountain buttressed with hedges loom in the distance. She’s wearing a low-cut, white sports bra and the warm breeze ruffles the stray blond hairs that didn’t make it into her ponytail.
A piano sonata by Mozart plays cheerily in the background as she sweeps a thin paint brush across the canvases in front of her. She’s painting flowers (daisies?), squiggly lines, and what appear to be ears. Later, when she posts this video on her social media, fans will equate her work to Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, and Leonardo da Vinci.
It’s the middle of October 2017, roughly two weeks after a gunman killed 58 people at a concert on the Las Vegas Strip. Since she began her “Piece of Me” concert residency at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino five years ago, Spears has called Vegas home.
Shaken by the tragedy, she took some time off from her show but returned to the stage 10 days later — she and her dancers wearing black “Vegas Strong” baseball caps that they threw into the crowd. She also invited the first responders from that fateful night to attend her concert and gave them a shout-out during the show.
When completed, Spears will also donate one of the paintings she’s working on to a charity event called Vegas Cares. The funds raised at the Nov. 2017 benefit will be used to build a memorial for the victims of the shootings.
Technically, Britney Spears’ painting isn’t very good. It lacks skill, inspiration, and effort.
But that’s not the point.
What matters is that the money is going for a good cause and that it came from Spears — considered the Queen of Pop by many. She created it, she touched it, she breathed on it and perhaps even got a speck of sweat or spit on it.
To fans, the work is priceless.
“I would literally do anything to own this painting,” one #TeamBritney member wrote on Twitter.
To make it even more valuable, it’s also highly likely Spears worked on the art-piece while topless. It’s an activity she has publicly admitted to and is apparently fond of doing.
“I have an art room, and I just paint on the walls and do all this kind of crazy stuff,” she told an Australian morning radio show in 2016. “I was just in there with my top off, just like painting and doing all this artsy-fartsy stuff.”
Unfortunately, the singer was out of town and couldn’t make it when the finished product was auctioned off at the Vegas Cares event. Had she been there, she probably could have helped drive the bids higher when they got stuck at $9,500 for her painting.
But she wasn’t there, so one of the auction organizers took it upon himself to keep things moving, and he made a bid.
“I said I would go for $10,000 thinking it would move past that figure once we’d crossed the threshold,” Robin Leach told OK Whatever before he passed away in August 2018. “But lucky me, I was able to buy it.”
Lucky Leach, indeed.
The 76-year-old British-expat-turned-longtime-Vegas-resident not only accidentally purchased a canvas from an artist not of his generation, but he got to spend the equivalent of a five-month vacation around-the-world or the cost of a one-person submarine on a Britney Spears painting his granddaughter could have made. But if he was disappointed, you couldn’t tell.
WHO IS ROBIN LEACH?
Leach made a career hobnobbing with and writing about celebrities in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and he knew enough not to bash an artist’s work on-record. For a decade, he was the genteel host of the popular CBS reality series, “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” and later worked as an entertainment reporter. Leach was known by his catchphrase — “Champagne wishes and caviar dreams” — and was name-dropped in arguably one of the most popular rap songs of all time: “Juicy” by the Notorious B.I.G.
So when he said at the start of the interview, “First of all, I like the painting,” I knew he was just being polite.
Leach had been part of the team that invited Spears to donate to the Vegas Cares auction, so I knew he wouldn’t readily admit his true feelings about the art. I let the topic slide for a while before tentatively picking it up again. “So would you call yourself a Britney fan?” I asked, which made him laugh.
“I’m a little too old for that kind of young pop culture,” Leach confessed.
But though he didn’t own a single Britney Spears record, he proved wasn’t totally clueless about her music either.
When he admitted to not having any of her songs in his music library, he said cheekily, “So I guess I’m now toxic.”
In fact, Leach probably knew more about Spears than most septuagenarians due to the nature of his career.
He first learned about her in the ‘90s when she was a contestant on a show he was producing called “Star Search.” Even then it was clear she had talent, he said; that she would become “a big hit.”
After that, he made it a point to “follow her [career] closely.” He attended her show “Britney: A Piece of Me” at Las Vegas’ Planet Hollywood four times in the span of a few years and “personally” nominated it for the Best Show category of the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s annual award show.
“I will tell you, I’ve seen her here in Vegas and she is amazing on stage,” Leach told me. “It’s a great show.”
He also apparently followed the singer on Twitter because he was aware of the video she posted earlier in 2017 of herself working on the painting.
“Yeah, I saw it,” Leach said. “I didn’t know then that was the painting that we were going to get. It wasn’t until we got much closer to the Vegas Cares event that she said, ‘This will be the painting I donate.’ ”
And though Leach never confirmed it with Spears, he was pretty sure “this [was] the first time that one of her paintings has gone out to the public.”
During the roughly nine months that he owned the $10k work before he died, the silver framed work hung in the “studio, den, or whatever you want to call it” of the journalist’s home in Las Vegas.
And surprisingly, Spears’ painting was not the most expensive piece Leach owned. That award went to a gold-bronze swinging sculpture of a man and a woman made by the Hungarian artist and freedom fighter Pal Kepenyes. Leach didn’t say how much it had cost him, but called it “a little more expensive” than the other works he’d acquired on his travels and throughout his lifetime.
“There are landscapes, there are animals,” he said, listing off examples of other art he owned. “I have some African art of animals painted by African painters. I have some Caribbean natives painted by the Arawak Indians of the Carib.
And now, [I have] Britney’s piece of art.”