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ALISON BOSHOFF: Despite her public persona, SARAH HARDING felt she was the ugly duckling

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charismatic, Talented and with a rare gift for honesty, after her diagnosis with terminal cancer earlier this year, Sarah Harding released a solo single and a memoir called Hear Me Out.

With biting humor, the Girls Aloud star described it as “my first and only book.” And in the final pages, she said she hoped to go out with a bang.

She wrote: ‘What I’d really like to do is see everyone, all my friends all together one last time and then I’d throw a great big fucking party to say thank you and goodbye. Wouldn’t that be great?’

However, it was not to be. The “harsh reality,” as she described it, was that she was already far too ill for a gathering of any kind. Unsteady on her legs due to lesions in her brain, she berated her loss of independence, forcing her to move back in with her mother Marie.

When Sarah discovered a lump under her arm early last year, she dismissed it as a cyst, perhaps caused by the strap of her guitar. Last March she had her first appointment and in July she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Then followed a mastectomy, which “broke her heart”, chemotherapy and radiotherapy – all endured during the lockdown.

Nadine Coyle, Kimberley Walsh, Sarah Harding, Nicola Roberts and Cheryl Cole of Girls Aloud arrive at the 2009 BRIT Awards

When Sarah discovered a lump under her arm early last year, she dismissed it as a cyst, perhaps caused by the strap of her guitar.  Last March she had her first appointment and in July she was diagnosed with breast cancer

When Sarah discovered a lump under her arm early last year, she dismissed it as a cyst, perhaps caused by the strap of her guitar. Last March she had her first appointment and in July she was diagnosed with breast cancer

And she thought, ‘It’s strange, I’m in this world. It’s like stepping onto another planet where everything seems unknown. I suppose anyone could say that in the midst of a global pandemic, but it’s not for me.

“As I write this, it’s a few weeks before my 39th birthday and I have no idea what’s in store for me in the coming year. I do my very best to be positive and fight it. This is an opportunity to reflect on all that is good and bad and to remind myself what a wonderfully full and colorful life I’ve had so far. A life for which I am very grateful, because I have achieved everything I dreamed of as a little girl.’

As she tells it, there were two Sarah Hardings, one as real as the other. One was the party animal, bubbly and risky – but also prone to fear and self-doubt (although tall blond and gorgeous, she always thought of herself as the band’s ‘ugly duckling’).

The other Sarah was a calmer person who liked to cook, spend time with family and pets, and read a book.

The

The “harsh reality,” as she described it, was that she was already far too ill for a gathering of any kind. Unsteady on her legs due to lesions in her brain, she verbally abused her loss of independence, forcing her to move back in with her mother Marie (pictured together in 2013)

Charismatic, talented and with a rare gift for honesty, following her diagnosis with terminal cancer earlier this year, Sarah Harding released a solo single and memoir called Hear Me Out.  Sarah Harding is pictured here as a child

Charismatic, talented and with a rare gift for honesty, following her diagnosis with terminal cancer earlier this year, Sarah Harding released a solo single and memoir called Hear Me Out. Sarah Harding is pictured here as a child

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. I’ve been looking for my part, so this must be it.’ It became easy for me. I liked a drink, I was a bit rebellious, I liked to party, so it was a win/win. Until it wasn’t.’

She added: ‘Somewhere in between the nightclubs, the dresses and haircuts, the big charts and the glamor of being a pop star, the other Sarah Harding got completely lost… there’s definitely that fun crazy party girl in me, always there been.

“It was the other Sarah—the one who loved curling up at home with her dog and a good book; the one who liked to cook a roast dinner for her friends; the one who liked to spend nights alone, write songs and make music – he got lost.’

Born in Ascot, Berkshire, to John and Marie in 1981, Sarah grew up in a small house in Wraysbury in Windsor. She was, in her own words, “something of a handful” and was diagnosed with ADHD as a young child. It meant she ended up attending no fewer than seven schools, including at least two boarding schools, before going out at 15.

She attended drama school part-time and found herself in a variety of jobs: in a call center, delivering auto parts, working in a bar, and training as a hairdresser.

All she loved was music inherited from her father, who had performed and sang in various bands. Sarah was never happier than when she sang and played the guitar.

She started performing in pubs, social clubs and caravan parks. She was also – briefly – in a girl band called Project G and auditioned for talent shows Fame Academy and Popstars: The Rivals in 2002.

At the age of 20, she won her place in the manufactured band that would become Girls Aloud alongside Cheryl Tweedy, Nadine Coyle, Nicola Roberts and Kimberley Walsh. They had four number one singles, 20 top ten hits and two number one albums. In 2010, the group had a fortune of £30 million.

Trade deals were made with Samsung electronics, Sunsilk shampoo and Eylure false eyelashes. Each girl was also recreated as a Barbie doll. It was, as she wrote, “stunning.”

Their schedule was crushing and there were some tensions among the girls. Sarah thought she didn’t belong. All five lived in the same building in London, but Cheryl shared with Nicola and Nadine with Kimberley, leaving Sarah alone.

At the age of 20, she won her place in the manufactured band that would become Girls Aloud alongside Cheryl Tweedy, Nadine Coyle, Nicola Roberts and Kimberley Walsh.  They had four number one singles, 20 top ten hits and two number one albums.  In 2010, the group had a fortune of £30 million

At the age of 20, she won her place in the manufactured band that would become Girls Aloud alongside Cheryl Tweedy, Nadine Coyle, Nicola Roberts and Kimberley Walsh. They had four number one singles, 20 top ten hits and two number one albums. In 2010, the group had a fortune of £30 million

After only a year with the band, she felt “anxious, tense, fragile.” She “feared” going to work, even if it was the fulfillment of a dream.

There were good times and wild times. She spent a night drinking with Boy George after a performance, and didn’t break off until she had half an hour to get to the airport. Her stamina was legendary.

Her love life was also eventful and painful. There were contacts with Calum Best, George’s son, and with Hollywood actor Stephen Dorff. An ex-boyfriend sold topless photos of her to a newspaper.

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 broke up a few months later.

This seems to have been the cue for her to push a self-destruct button. She wrote of a “dark, difficult period” when she was “on a treadmill of booze, sleeping pills and drugs.” In October 2011, she visited a clinic in South Africa where she organized a ‘Rehab’s Got Talent’ competition with typical irony and fun. She also struck up an ill-advised romance at the clinic, which ended after a physical fight with her beau.

After Girls Aloud split in 2013, she became a regular on reality TV shows, starring in the BBC gymnastics show Tumble in 2014 and Celebrity MasterChef the following year. In 2016, she tore a ligament while filming Channel 4 series The Jump. In 2017, she won the last series of Celebrity Big Brother.

She also acted as Roxy in St Trinian’s 2: The Legend of Fritton’s Gold and starred briefly in Coronation Street in 2015.

And in recent years she hoped to start singing again and to work on a new direction as a blues singer.

At the time of her diagnosis, she had signed up to participate in a Girls Aloud reunion and tour in 2022 – the 20th anniversary of the band’s founding. It wasn’t supposed to be.

Still, she got together with her bandmates for a weekend at Soho Farmhouse in Oxfordshire last year – and it was the first time they’d met in years.

Most of the time Sarah worried that she didn’t look glamorous enough, that she was bloated from steroids, and that she would lose her eyelashes from chemotherapy.

She needn’t have worried. Bandmate Cheryl later recalled, “Sarah was at her best. She’s always been funny and astute, but somehow she’s even funnier in all of this. God knows how!’

God knows indeed…at the end of her memoir, Sarah discusses preparing for the end. She wrote: ‘I have also thought about an epitaph for my grave. I think ‘FFS’ [For F***’s Sake] maybe a good one. It’s probably my most used sentence in this whole sentence, with one crappy event after another.’

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