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Interview: Reg Jones - When she made it she pleaded with me not to forget her, but fame tore us apart; BRITNEY'S FIRST BOYFRIEND ON THEIR LOVE.

AS THE handsome captain of the school football team, 17-year-old Reg Jones could have any girl he wanted. And he knew it.

The pretty blonde student had already caught his eye.

She was the little sister of his friend Brian, and he remembered watching her as a youngster, playing on the trampoline in her garden.

She had blossomed into an attractive 14-year-old, and in the school cafe he was going to make her day. Confident of his success, he asked her out. The girl, shocked and delighted, could hardly believe her luck.

She, unimportant little Britney Spears, had attracted the attentions of the school hunk. And a romance which many thought would end in wedding bells had started.

Reg, now 21 and a barman in small-town USA, shrugs at the irony of his first encounter with the teenager who would go on to become world-famous.

"She just didn't believe me when I asked her," he recalls. "I was the one everyone looked up to. I was the famous one then."

How the tables have turned.

Britney, 18, rakes in millions as one of the world's most famous pop stars. Her new single, Oops, I've Done It Again, is released next week and is sure to power to No 1.

She counts Prince William among her biggest fans, and her website, Society Of Future Husbands Of Britney Spears, is the most visited in the world.

Her former boyfriend, meanwhile, has dropped out of college and earns a meagre living serving at Jock and Gill's Bar.

Yet for two and a half years they were inseparable, until the pressures of her fame and their different lifestyles drove them apart.

Trying desperately to keep their doomed love alive, Britney poured out her feelings in letters to Reg.

Even while she was away in Sweden recording the album which would bring her riches and fame, she wrote imploring him not to forget her. And he never has.

"It's strange to see how famous she has become," muses Reg as he gets ready for another shift.

I KEEP seeing her face on the TV or in magazines and I still can't take it in. To me, she's still just my Brit."

For millions of men around the world, Reg Jones is a figure of envy. He has always refused to talk about the love affair that broke his heart. But now he has opened his heart to The Mirror.

"She was my best friend as well as my girlfriend," he says, his eyes bright as he remembers the good times.

"Britney is a fantastic girl. She loved to laugh, she loved to have a good time but she was also incredibly loyal and honest.

"We used to do all the things normal couples do - go to the movies, eat out, fly kites, go fishing. We loved trying everything."

At first, the pair - both pupils at the Parklane Academy in McComb, Mississippi - were just like any other besotted teenagers.

They spent almost all their time together, going on holiday and enjoying days out riding, fishing and white-water rafting.

Their relationship was loving, but not sexual. Britney is a devout Christian and has revealed that she is still a virgin. She recently insisted that she won't have sex until she gets married.

The pop princess is now dating NSync star Justin Timberlake, but it was her first love who convinced her to give the showbiz scene a go. Reg knew that the precocious young Britney had a hankering for the spotlight.

As a child she had appeared in ads and stage plays, and at 11 she landed a part in the TV show Mickey Mouse Club. At 15 she won a record contract and went to Sweden to craft her debut album - which sold 18 million copies.

Reg encouraged his ambitious girlfriend as she threw herself into an exhausting round of promotional appearances.

They tried to keep things as normal as possible as she flew around the world, making records and appearing on TV shows. They were on the phone so often that Reg ran up a monthly bill of pounds 400 as they talked through the night.

But it could not last. Today, all he has left are her postcards and letters tellling their own touching story of their love.

As she prepared to fly to Sweden to record her first album, she wrote: "I just wish you could come with me.... I'll think about you when I'm there.

"I know it gets hard when we are apart (at least it does for me) but I just think about the future and know I have something great to look forward to. It keeps me going.

"Tell your family I miss them very much and I can't wait to see them again. Be careful and please don't get hurt while I'm gone. I think I would seriously die.

"Please don't forget about me! I love you so much and miss you terribly, love Brit.

"PS Be good."

In another letter, she tried to reassure him she still loved him.

SHE wrote: "Hey, baby, I'm missing you lots, but too busy to talk to you as much as I want to.

"I hope your (sic) doing good in school and trying hard for me. Tell your family I said hey."

Because of her crowded schedule, the relationship became hard to sustain. But both were determined to make the extra effort.

Transatlantic phone calls and last-minute dashes up and down the country became the norm. Reg recalls: "Once, I flew up to New York to be with her and we spent Thanksgiving Day watching the famous Macy's Parade."

But her life had changed irrevocably. And, deep down, Reg knew she was outgrowing him.

"I remember we went to see the movie Titanic," he says. "We both liked it so much we went twice.

"Britney particularly liked watching Leonardo DiCaprio.

"Not long afterwards, she called me from Los Angeles and said: 'Guess who I have just beaten at ping-pong? Leo DiCaprio!'"

Reg will never forget the day the relationship ended. "When we broke up it was very tough," he says. "It ripped me apart.

"My head told me it was the right thing for both of us, but my heart told me a different story.

"We sat down on the porch at her mum and dad's house and talked it through. There were hugs and kisses and we agreed to stay friends. We are still good friends and I'd get back with Britney tomorrow if I could, but it is very unlikely we ever will."

Reg is still fiercely loyal and speaks glowingly of her. They talk regularly on the phone. And Reg remains philosophical about the way he found himself playing second fiddle to his famous love.

"It's funny how things work out," he says. "That day when I went up to her in the school cafe, I had no idea what would happen.

"I just remember that she was giggling and laughing. Afterwards I went to see her father to ask his permission to take Britney out.

"I remember what good times we had. I haven't had a girlfriend since because I don't want to jump into anything. But I'll never forget Britney."

Neither has the young star forgotten her own humble roots.

She has bought a plot of land and is building a mansion that will overlook, Kentwood, Louisiana, the deprived town where she grew up. This is a town where you can buy a three-bedroomed home for pounds 13,000 and virtually every shop in the High Street is shut or running a "closing down" sale. Unemployment is high.

THE local girl made good has brought unimaginable pride to the small town in the heart of the Bible belt. "Home of Our Britney Spears," it boasts.

Kristina Coots, who went to school with her, says: "Nobody ever thought anybody from Kentwood, Louisiana, would make it like she has.

"When she came back once, the first thing she did when she got out of her motorhome was wave and say 'Hi' to everyone. She remembered all the names of her old friends. We are her biggest fans."

The second of three children born to Jamie Spears, 46, a building contractor, and his wife Lynne, 44, Britney made her singing debut at five, crooning What Child Is This? at her kindergarten graduation. Copying the sass and style of her idols Madonna and Mariah Carey, she danced and posed her way through her early years, landing parts in commercials and plays.

Her parents went into debt to feed her dream, scrimping and doing without to fund the endless contests and tuition.

At 15 she won an audition with Jive Records, and blew record company bosses away with her assured performance.

Then, in a seamless transformation which turned her from a bubblegum sweetheart to full-blown vixen, she became one of the most famous singers in the world.

And one of the richest. Last Christmas, she bought her mother a white Mercedes sedan to go with the white Merc convertible she picked up for herself.

No one is prouder of Britney than her great-grandmother Lexie, 85, who used to let her raid her handbag, wear her lipstick and dance around her living-room. She has turned her modest home into a shrine to Britney.

"To think that as a toddler she sat here on my knee and sang to me, and now that same voice is singing songs that are being played on the radio," she says.

"Once, she got into my purse and got hold of my lipstick. She put it on her face and then danced and sang along to music on the radio.

"I was clapping and laughing and Brit just loved it."

She sighs: "Of course, I don't see her so much now because she's always on the road, travelling. But when she comes home, she always looks in on me.

"I think it is just wonderful that she is popular throughout the world. Everyone round here is very proud of her. She hasn't forgotten where she has come from.

"It just shows that success can come to anyone who works hard - even a little girl from Kentwood, Louisiana."
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Lines, Andy
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 1, 2000
Words:1701
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