I’ll Stand by You: When Sarah Harding met her Band Mates

Pop group Girls Aloud have kicked off their reunion tour in memory of their late bandmate Sarah Harding, following her tragic death from breast cancer.

The band has achieved success all over the world after being formed through Popstars: The Rivals, an ITV talent show, in 2002.

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Named the UK’s biggest selling 21st century girl group in 2012, after selling four million albums and 4.3 million singles; despite temporarily splitting up twice along the way, 22 years later, the band is still going strong.

However, the latest Girls Aloud tour is tinged with sadness after Sarah lost her battle against cancer in 2021, at the age of just 39.

How did Girls Aloud start?

Popstars: The Rivals was a reality TV show launched in September 2002, attracting thousands of young people with aspirations to join either a girl group or a boy band. Hosted by Davina McCall, the show had a panel of judges comprising pop band manager Louis Walsh, record producer Pete Waterman and former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell.

Auditions had begun in August 2002 at venues all over the UK, with only the top 102 contestants making it through to the television series. Each week, the competitors sang for survival in live television performances, with the judges and the public voting on who should stay and who was going home.

Girls Aloud members

Surviving contestants were whittled down to ten boys and ten girls in the closing stages of the competition.

After many heats, when more competitors fell by the wayside, the successful Girls Aloud members were eventually chosen on 30th November 2002: Nadine Coyle, Cheryl Tweedy, Kimberley Walsh, Sarah Harding and Nicola Roberts were the winning quintet who were invited to record their debut single in time for Christmas 2002.

For Sarah Harding, Girls Aloud was a dream come true. Born in 1981 in Ascot, she had studied hair and beauty at college and worked in nightclub promotions, but always aspired to become a singer. She had worked in many jobs, including waitressing and van driving, to fund personal tours of northwest England to promote herself as a singer.

She applied to audition for the talent show Fame Academy, as well as Popstars: The Rivals, when she was 21. She was thrilled to sail through the early stages of Popstars.

She gave up the chance of a fledgling modelling career after entering FHM’s High Street Honeys because she realised right away that becoming a singer was the right choice.

Career highlights

Girls Aloud enjoyed stardom from the outset, becoming much more successful than their male counterparts, One True Voice, as their debut single, Sound of the Underground, was a massive hit. Not only was it the Christmas number one, but it remained there for four weeks. The girls still hold the record for being together for the shortest time before having a UK number one hit.

They were one of only a handful of reality TV acts to hit the big time and enjoy continued success. Within eight years, they had reportedly earned £30 million. In 2011, Guinness World Records named them as the Most Successful Reality TV Group, and they soon became the biggest-selling girl group in the UK.

They had 21 top ten hit singles including four number ones and enjoyed successful live tours, selling out stadiums within minutes. They won the 2009 Brit Award for Best Single with The Promise.

In addition, the girls also recorded solo hits, with Sarah contributing songs to the soundtracks of films such St Trinians 2 and Wild Child.

She also signed a lucrative £100,000 deal in 2006 to model Ultimo lingerie, following her early promise as a model before joining Girls Aloud.

Despite taking a hiatus from recording and touring as a band between 2009 and 2012, Girls Aloud got back together, although they announced their decision to split in 2013, breaking fans’ hearts.

Solo career

Sarah’s solo career was also successful, and she took part in many different projects. She came third in the BBC competitive gymnastics show, Tumble, in 2014 and took part in Celebrity MasterChef in 2015.

She joined reality show The Jump on C4 in 2016, where celebrities took part in winter sports, but had to withdraw due to an injury.

She also toured the UK with Ghost: The Musical, in autumn 2016. Always a public favourite, she won Celebrity Big brother in 2017.

However, as she enjoyed living life to the full, Sarah received a devastating cancer diagnosis, which she made public on 26th August 2020. She told fans she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and that it had already spread to “other parts” of her body.

Her career was put on hold, and she returned to Manchester to live with her mother while she underwent treatment but tragically, in March 2021, she announced the disease was terminal and that she would be unlikely to make it to Christmas.

She published her memoir, Hear Me Out, documenting her life and diagnosis, and released her last single, Wear It Like a Crown, on 24th March 2021, donating all the profits to charity. It shot straight to the top of the iTunes chart and made the top 40 in the official UK singles chart.

Girls Aloud reunion tour

Sarah’s fellow band members were devastated to learn of her illness and rallied round.

Cheryl revealed Sarah had gone to stay with her during her final months and they had rekindled some of their happy memories. Very open about her terminal illness, she told Cheryl that when she had gone, they should still do something together as a band.

At the time. Cheryl said she “couldn’t fathom” life without her friend and was hoping for a miracle. The band had been discussing plans for a reunion before finding out about Sarah’s illness, but they didn’t want to do it without her.

Sadly, Sarah passed away on 5th September 2021, aged 39, leaving family, friends and fans devastated.

Only after she had gone did the remaining Girls Aloud members decide to do a tour in her memory. The tour kicked off in Dublin on 17th May and had some poignant moments, including the group performing I’ll Stand By You with Sarah during the show, as her recorded vocals were played while the rest of the band joined in live.

Due to unprecedented demand for ticket sales, the girls have had to add six extra dates to the tour of the UK and Ireland.

Sarah will never be forgotten; her legacy will live on, not only because of her wonderful talent as a singer, but also because of the dignified way she handled her illness. She has been praised by cancer charities for highlighting breast cancer and encouraging women to get checked out if something doesn’t feel right.

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