The pop singer and TV personality Sarah Harding, who had 21 UK Top 10 singles as a member of Girls Aloud, has died aged 39 from breast cancer.
Her mother, Marie, announced her death on Instagram, prompting a flood of tributes from fans and figures from showbusiness. Geri Horner, the Spice Girls singer and a judge on the TV talent show that created Girls Aloud, wrote: “Rest in peace, Sarah Harding. You’ll be remembered for the light and joy you brought to the world. X”
Davina McCall, host of Popstars: The Rivals, wrote: “So so sad to hear about Sarah … a star from the get go, hugely fun and outgoing yet also somehow fragile … love to her family and friends.”
Writing on Instagram, her fellow Girls Aloud star Nadine Coyle said: “I am absolutely devastated!! I can’t think of words that could possibly express how I feel about this girl & what she means to me!! I know so many of you will be feeling this way. For now I’m sending so much love to you!!!”
Bandmate Nicola Roberts shared photos of them together and wrote on Instagram: “I’m absolutely devastated and I can’t accept that this day has come. My heart is aching and all day everything we went through together has raced round my mind … Electric girl, you made us. You gave it everything and still with a smile. A white butterfly flew past my window this morning before I knew, it must have been you.”
Marie Harding said: “It’s with deep heartbreak that today I’m sharing the news that my beautiful daughter Sarah has sadly passed away.
“Many of you will know of Sarah’s battle with cancer and that she fought so strongly from her diagnosis until her last day. She slipped away peacefully this morning.
“I’d like to thank everyone for their kind support over the past year. It meant the world to Sarah and it gave her great strength and comfort to know she was loved.
“I know she won’t want to be remembered for her fight against this terrible disease – she was a bright shining star and I hope that’s how she can be remembered instead. – Marie x”
Many people responded directly to the post. “This is so heartbreaking. Rest in peace beautiful Sarah,” said Denise van Outen. Fearne Cotton wrote: “Oh my gosh I’m so sorry to hear this. I’m sending your family so much love and strength. She was always kind and so much fun to be around.”
The reality TV star Calum Best, an ex-boyfriend, posted pictures of them together. “Jesus this one hits home, so damn sad, so young,” he wrote on Twitter. “I hope u rest in peace Sarah we had some crazy fun times and adventures. U will be so very missed. Sending so much love to ur mom.”
The singer and Britain’s Got Talent judge Alesha Dixon called Harding a “shining star”. “Rest in peace beautiful Sarah.”
Spandau Ballet’s Martin Kemp wrote: “So sad, my heart goes out to all your friends and family and all your fans … Rest in peace!”
In August 2020, Harding announced that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and was receiving chemotherapy. “My amazing mum, family and close friends are helping me through this, and I want to say a thank you to the wonderful NHS doctors and nurses who have been and continue to be heroes,” she said at the time.
Harding was born in 1981 in Berkshire and raised in Stockport. She left school early and began focusing on a music career, initially recording vocals for dance producers. In 2002, she unsuccessfully auditioned for BBC talent show Fame Academy, but successfully entered ITV’s Popstars: The Rivals that year.Sarah Harding, centre, with Nicola Roberts, Cheryl Tweedy, Kimberley Walsh and Nadine Coyle. Photograph: Tim Roney/Getty Images
The format created a boy band, One True Voice, and a girl band, Girls Aloud, who were then pitted against each other for that year’s Christmas No 1. Girls Aloud, with Harding alongside Nadine Coyle, Nicola Roberts, Cheryl Tweedy and Kimberley Walsh – “five northern girls with attitude, very outspoken,” as Harding described them – were triumphant, with their debut single Sound of the Underground becoming the first of four UK chart-toppers and 21 Top 10 hits in a decade-long career.
With Harding bringing an endearingly hedonistic edge as well as channelling the glamour of 1960s girl groups, Girls Aloud became one of the country’s most successful music acts during that period, with four of their five studio albums also going Top 10. Along with production outfit Xenomania, the group earned critical acclaim for their high-energy, quirkily guitar-driven sound, and high-profile fans including Bono, Chris Martin and Arctic Monkeys; even Ken Livingstone and David Cameron were self-professed admirers.
Their No 1 hit The Promise won the 2009 Brit award for best single, with Harding telling the audience at the ceremony: “It’s about time!” That song was one of the best showcases of Harding’s soaring pop voice, singing characterful lyrics that were typical of the band: “So here I am, a walking primrose / Wondering when I’m gonna see you again.”
Girls Aloud went on hiatus later in 2009 and Harding began an acting career that continued after the group’s 2013 split. She appeared in two St Trinian’s movies, the BBC TV film Freefall with Dominic Cooper, and the Danny Dyer movie Run for Your Wife.Girls Aloud performing on their final tour in 2013. Photograph: Dave J Hogan/Getty Images
In 2015 she played wronged lover Joni Preston in four episodes of Coronation Street, saying: “To do a soap, your favourite soap, a cameo in it, in your home town – it’s just the best feeling.”
She also appeared in a stage adaptation of the film Ghost, but had her greatest success post-Girls Aloud by returning to reality TV. She won Celebrity Big Brother in 2017, and also appeared on Celebrity MasterChef, the gymnastics show Tumble and the winter sports series The Jump. She became one of the many celebrities to injure themselves on the latter, pulling out with a knee injury after five weeks.
Harding was a frequent tabloid fixture for her high-profile romances with the actor Stephen Dorff, the model Calum Best and her Celebrity Big Brother co-star Chad Johnson, and also hit the headlines for a six-month driving ban in 2013 after she was caught using her mobile phone at the wheel.
She was briefly engaged to Tom Crane, a DJ, but the couple split in 2011 and soon after she entered a rehab facility with depression and alcohol addiction. “I was so down, but I just tried to keep busy and, to numb myself, I was drinking more,” she later told Hello! magazine. “It was my way of escaping.”
Regarding her hard-partying image, she later acknowledged: “When it came to going out on stage I’d step up and get into my caricature mode of the lairy Sarah everyone thought I was. People are finally going to see that there’s a softer side to me [in Ghost] they haven’t seen before. Normally that side is reserved for behind closed doors, for my friends and my family. I don’t like to show weakness.”
In 2021, she published a memoir, Hear Me Out, written in the wake of her diagnosis. She said she was “inundated with lovely messages from my fans” after announcing her illness. “I’m grateful beyond words for that,” she added.