Sarah Harding: The 'wildchild' overnight success story

Finding fame overnight on Popstars: the Rivals, Sarah Harding helped Girls Aloud become UK biggest-selling girl group – but she was also known for ‘wildchild’ reputation and turbulent personal life

Sarah Harding became a household name as part of Girls Aloud but enjoyed success beyond pop as an actress and model.

The singer, who has died aged 39 after being diagnosed with breast cancer, found fame nearly two decades ago when she beat several thousand other entrants to win a place on ITV’s Popstars: The Rivals.

It was on that show that she met bandmates Cheryl, Nadine Coyle, Nicola Roberts and Kimberley Walsh and launched Girls Aloud, going on to score four number one singles and two number one albums, with tracks including Sound Of The Underground, Love Machine and The Promise.

After disclosing her breast cancer diagnosis in August 2020, Harding remained in contact with her fans on social media, writing a memoir and sharing a 10-year-old unreleased track to raise money for the foundation where she was receiving treatment.

Harding, born in Ascot in Berkshire, rose to fame in 2002 as a contestant on Popstars: The Rivals.

Heartbreaking: Stars from the world of entertainment have paid tribute to Girls Aloud’s Sarah Harding following her untimely death to breast cancer at the age of 39 [pictured in 2010]

Star: The singer was one fifth of Girls Aloud, who were formed in the early noughties. She is pictured in 2003 with bandmates [Top L-R] Nicola Roberts, Nadine Coyle, [Bottom L-R] Kimberley Walsh and Cheryl

Girls Aloud was created on the show and the group went on to score the Christmas number one that year with their debut single Sound Of The Underground.

Highlights from the career of Girls Aloud star Sarah Harding 

Girls Aloud star Sarah Harding has died at the age of 39 after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

Here PA looks back at some of the highlights from the chart-topping singer’s career.

– Auditioning for Popstars: The Rivals

After working as a nightclub promoter, a waitress at Pizza Hut and a BT telephone operator, Harding began touring pubs and social clubs in the North West of England, performing her own material.

She auditioned for the 2002 series of Popstars: The Rivals with an acapella version of Steps’ Last Thing On My Mind before blowing judge Louis Walsh a kiss.

Her performance won her a place on the show and a spot in Girls Aloud.

– The group win big at the Brit Awards

Girls Aloud have been nominated five times at the Brit Awards but only won once – best British single for The Promise at the 2009 ceremony.

Taking to the stage, Harding told the crowd: ‘Can I just say, it’s about time!’

– Girls Aloud meet the Queen

The pop group performed their single The Promise at the Royal Variety Performance at the Royal Albert Hall in 2012 and were pictured speaking to the Queen.

Bandmate Kimberley Walsh later told the Daily Mail: ‘She said she loved our dresses and asked if we were on a break – which we had been – so she’d obviously done her research.’

– Appearing in Coronation Street

In 2015 Harding fulfilled a long-standing goal and guest starred in Coronation Street on ITV, debuting as Joni Preston, the wife of Robert Preston, played by Tristan Gemmill.

She made only a few appearances that summer as her marriage to Robert disintegrated when he began an affair with his ex-wife.

– Being crowned winner of Celebrity Big Brother

In 2017 Harding proved a hit with the general public after signing up to enter the Celebrity Big Brother house.

She secured 35.33% of the final vote with singer Amelia Lily as the runner-up and Made In Chelsea’s Sam Thompson coming third.

She later wrote in her autobiography Hear Me Out, ‘I wanted to prove I could do it. I also went in there intending to show people a different side of me.

‘I’d also been portrayed in the media as this mad, off-the-rails party girl.’

The band went on to release five studio albums, two of which topped the Official Charts Company rankings.

In addition to her pop success, Harding enjoyed a varied career in acting and television.

Some of her early credits include roles in the St Trinian’s films and BBC drama Freefall, opposite Dominic Cooper.

She also made a guest appearance in Coronation Street as Joni in 2015 and was subsequently invited back to feature in more episodes of the ITV soap.

In 2016 Harding made her stage debut in Ghost – The Musical at the New Wimbledon Theatre in south-west London.

In the same year she was forced to pull out of Channel 4’s reality ski show The Jump after rupturing a ligament.

She become the sixth celebrity to leave the show through injury.

In 2017 Harding was a contestant on Celebrity Big Brother and was crowned the winner.

She narrowly beat singer Amelia Lily, with Made In Chelsea’s Sam Thompson coming third.

Harding formed a relationship with fellow contestant Chad Johnson, but they reportedly split shortly after the programme concluded.

She was previously engaged to DJ Tom Crane and they announced the end of their four-year relationship in 2011.

Harding entered rehab shortly after their split and later openly discussed her struggle with alcohol.

She disclosed in August 2020 that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, which had spread to other parts of her body.

On September 5 her mother Marie announced her death on Instagram and described her ‘beautiful’ daughter as ‘a bright shining star’.

Stars from the world of entertainment have paid tribute to Girls Aloud’s Sarah Harding following her untimely death to breast cancer at the age of 39.

The singer, who also modelled and had a starring role in the St Trinian’s film series, passed away earlier today, her family announced, just 13-months after confirming her cancer diagnosis. 

Geri Horner of the Spice Girls paid tribute to Sarah, writing on Twitter: ‘Rest in peace, Sarah Harding. You’ll be remembered for the light and joy you brought to the world’ .

Former Big Brother host Davina McCall wrote in a tribute to Sarah: ‘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.’   

Fearne Cotton was among those paying tribute on the Instagram post from Sarah Harding’s mother announcing her passing. 

She 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. I’m very sorry for your loss. Prayers and love to you.’

Alesha Dixon has described Sarah Harding as a ‘shining star’ following her death. The singer and talent show judge said on Twitter: ‘A sad day! Such a shining star! Rest in peace beautiful Sarah.’


Plans: Sarah was reportedly planning a solo career as a blue singer prior to her cancer diagnosis and had been honing her skills as a guitarist before the diagnosis last August [pictured in 2018]

Fellow TV star Denise Van Outen commented on the Instagram post from Sarah Harding’s mother, Marie, announcing her death.

Katie Price paid tribute to Sarah Harding on Instagram, sharing a photo of them appearing together on a panel show. She wrote: ‘I’m devastated to hear my friend, @sarahnicoleharding has passed. You were always such a genuine and honest person, I will remember all the laughs we used to have back in the day…I always valued Sarah’s friendship and my thoughts go out to her family and friends.’

Good Morning Britain presenter and weatherman Alex Beresford recalled interviewing Sarah Harding in a tribute posted on Twitter. Sharing a photo of them together, he said: ‘Such sad news to hear the passing of Sarah Harding. Had the pleasure of meeting her a few times and sat down to interview her once. On all occasions she was so lovely. A tragic loss to breast cancer.’ 

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