In my eyes, Sarah Harding stood out from the rest of Girls Aloud, not just for being the loudest, the most charismatic, honest and real, but also for her 60’s rock chick image and general sense of style. Whilst many people assume Girls Aloud was all about Cheryl – not for me. I only really noticed Sarah. It’s fair to say I was never exactly a Girls Aloud fan, but Sarah Harding had something special.
She died this week following diagnosis with terminal cancer only last year, and I had literally just finished reading her book “Hear Me Out” this summer. With dark humour, Harding described it as ‘my first and only book’. And in its closing pages, she said she hoped to “go out with a bang”.
Now I didn’t know Sarah directly. We had mutual friends, and I’m pretty sure we’d have been in the same places at the same time, but we never crossed paths. So, I base a lot of this piece on her book, which I thoroughly recommend.
She wrote: ‘What I would really like to do is to see everyone, all my friends all together, one last time and then I would throw a great big fuck off party to say thank you and good bye. Wouldn’t that be amazing?’
That wasn’t to be. The ‘hard reality’, as she described it, was that she was already far too ill for a gathering of any sort. Unsteady on her feet due to lesions on her brain, she was devastated at her loss of independence, which had forced her to move back in with her mum.
When Sarah had discovered a lump under her arm early last year, she’d dismissed it as a cyst, perhaps caused by the strap of her guitar. She had her first appointment in March last year and was diagnosed with breast cancer in July. Obviously, she had put off seeing a doctor due to the Pandemic.
Then followed a mastectomy, that ‘broke her heart’, chemotherapy and radiotherapy – all endured during lockdown. If there is a legacy Sarah can leave us it checking ourselves regularly and NEVER EVER leaving it if you suspect something is wrong.
There were two Sarah Hardings, each as real as the other. One was the party girl, wild and risk-taking –which I resonate with completely – but also prone to anxiety and self-doubt even though she was tall blonde and stunning, she always considered herself the ‘ugly duckling’ of the band.
The other Sarah was a quieter person who was happy cooking, spending time with family and pets, and reading a book.
She wrote that in her Girls Aloud years, she became a caricature – a ‘rock chick, blonde bombshell, party girl, the caner of the band’. She added: ‘For me it was like, ‘Oh that’s who I am then. I’ve been looking for my role so this must be it.’ It became easy for me. I liked a drink, I was a bit rebellious, I liked to go out partying so it was a win/win. Until it wasn’t.’
She added: ‘Somewhere among the nightclubs, the frocks and hairdos, the big chart hits and the glamour of being a pop star, the other Sarah Harding got utterly lost… there most definitely is that fun crazy party girl in me, there always was. I can see a little of myself in that statement too.
Her great love was DJ Tom Crane and they were together for four years. He proposed to her in the Maldives in 2011 – but they split a few months later.
This seems to have been the cue for her to press a self-destruct button. She wrote of a ‘dark, difficult period’ when she was ‘on a treadmill of booze, sleeping pills and drugs’.
And in recent years she had been hoping to go back to singing and working on a new direction as a blues singer.
At the time of her diagnosis, she had signed up to take part in a Girls Aloud reunion and tour in 2022 – the 20th anniversary of the band’s inception. It wasn’t to be.
She did reunite with the girls at Soho Farmhouse last year for a last weekend though – and it was the first time they had all met for years.
Typically, Sarah worried about not looking glamorous enough, about being bloated due to steroids and losing her eyelashes to chemotherapy.
The fact is she was beautiful, wild, rebellious, sweet, fun, loving and vulnerable. She didn’t believe she was good enough and ‘winging it’ at every step. But who doesn’t feel like that? I know I do sometimes.
She had a stand-out eye for fashion with an edge. I loved her short peroxide blonde pixie hair-cut and 60s style make-up, so Twiggy with a dash of Bardot. Her structured dresses for the red carpet were always glamorous yet edgy and she was definitely influenced by a bit of Kate Moss, Debbie Harry and Courtney Love. Here are my favourite Sarah Harding images.
Gone but never forgotten.