Girls Aloud star Sarah Harding dies aged 39

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Sarah Harding in 2018Image source, PA Media

Girls Aloud singer Sarah Harding, 39, who had breast cancer, died on Sunday morning, her mother has said.

Harding revealed in August 2020 that she had been diagnosed with the disease, which had spread to other parts of her body.

Her mother Marie announced the news on Instagram, describing her "beautiful" daughter as "a bright, shining star".

Earlier this year Harding revealed doctors had told her she would not see another Christmas.

Her Girls Aloud bandmates Nicola Roberts and Nadine Coyle led the tributes on social media.

Roberts, who shared photos of them together, posted: "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... a part of me or us isn't here anymore and it's unthinkable and painful and utterly cruel."

She added: "Electric girl, you made us. You gave it everything and still with a smile."

Coyle wrote on Instagram: "I am absolutely devastated. I can't think of words that could possibly express how I feel about this girl and what she means to me."

In a post next to a black and white image of Harding, her mother wrote: "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."

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In March this year, in an extract from her memoir published in the Times, Harding wrote: "In December my doctor told me that the upcoming Christmas would probably be my last."

She said she didn't want an exact prognosis, just "comfort" and to be "pain-free".

Harding also wrote in her autobiography, Hear Me Out, about how she initially put off getting medical advice when she first found lumps under her arm in December 2019.

She eventually saw a doctor who advised her to schedule an MRI scan - but then "coronavirus hit and everything either went into slow motion or stopped altogether", she wrote.

"I was aware that I needed to get this health issue sorted, but with everything that was going on, it was tough."

She said the pain continued getting worse. "One day I woke up realising that I'd been in denial about the whole thing. Yes, there was a lockdown, yes, there was a pandemic, but it was almost as if I'd been using that as an excuse not to face up to the fact that something was very wrong."

Harding shot to fame in 2002 as a contestant on Popstars: The Rivals - an ITV talent show which aimed to find both a new girl band and boy band.

She made it to the final and gained the final spot in the group which became Girls Aloud - despite being the underdog according to bookmakers - alongside Nicola Roberts, Nadine Coyle, Kimberley Walsh and Cheryl Cole (then Tweedy).

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"She was the girl next door who had it all": Record producer Pete Waterman pays tribute

TV and music stars have been among those to pay tribute to Harding, who was born in Ascot, Berkshire, on 17 November 1981, and later moved to Stockport, Manchester.

Former Spice Girl Geri Horner - a judge on Popstars: The Rivals - tweeted: "Rest in peace, Sarah Harding. You'll be remembered for the light and joy you brought to the world."

Fellow judge Louis Walsh, who helped create the group, said he would remember her with "great fondness". He added: "She was always fun and the life and soul of the party. Anytime she came to Dublin in the early days, we went out to the Pod nightclub and would be the last to leave."

Another member of the ITV talent show's cast, TV presenter Davina McCall, wrote it was "so, so sad" to hear the news. "A star from the get go, hugely fun and outgoing yet also somehow fragile... love to her family and friends."

Former boyfriend Calum Best, a reality TV star, spoke of the "crazy fun times and adventures" they had together, saying she would be "so very missed".

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JLS singer Oritse Williams, whose band emerged four years after Girls Aloud, said it was "heartbreaking" to hear that she had died, tweeting: "The times we met she was always so bubbly, such a big beautiful personality."

"Dainty blonde I ain't," wrote Sarah Harding in Girls Aloud's official book, Dreams That Glitter, in 2009. "I've got a t-shirt that says 'Well-behaved women don't make history'. Funny how the stylist gave that to me..."

Harding was the band's rock and roll star, smashing up a phone box in the video for No Good Advice and recording some of their most outrageous ad-libs. Just listen to the gleeful menace with which she delivers the line, "[you] make me wanna break the rules" over the shredding guitar riffs of Wake Me Up.

She was the last contestant on Popstars: The Rivals to be selected for the band, but she was also their biggest cheerleader. When they finally won a Brit Award, seven years into a career that changed the face of British pop, it was Harding who grabbed the trophy, hoisted it into the air and shouted, "It's about time!"

But although she was portrayed in the press as the band's party girl, she had a quiet side. The Girls Aloud song Live In The Country was inspired by her decision to quit London and live on a farm (although the insistent drum and bass beat suggested she'd never be too far away). And the line, "Here I am, walking Primrose," from the Brit Award-winning The Promise was a tribute to the singer's beloved pet bulldogs.

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When Girls Aloud went their separate ways in 2013, Harding pursued a career on the screen, appearing in independent films, soap operas and reality TV shows; while recording new music in fits and starts.

The devastating news of her cancer diagnosis last year was followed, this March, by an autobiography in which she revealed that Christmas 2020 was "probably my last".

"I'm trying to live and enjoy every second of my life, however long it might be," she wrote. "I am having a glass of wine or two during all this, because it helps me relax."

In the end, she died peacefully at home - but she will always be remembered as the vital life force of one of British pop's defining bands.

Girls Aloud are Britain's biggest-selling girl group of the 21st Century, selling 4.3 million singles and four million albums. They scored 21 UK top 10 singles between 2002-2012, including four number ones.

The group went on to have several UK hits, including Sound of the Underground, The Promise, Love Machine, Jump and Call The Shots.

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Harding won a Brit Award with Girls Aloud for best single for The Promise in 2009

In 2011 Harding went into rehab for depression and alcohol addiction after the end of her four-year relationship with DJ Tom Crane, to whom she was engaged.

Girls Aloud reunited in 2012 after a short hiatus, to release and tour a greatest hits album. They announced their split in 2013.

Harding then took on several acting roles, including appearances in Run for Your Wife, and St. Trinian's 2: The Legend of Fritton's Gold.

She appeared on the Channel 4 reality show The Jump in 2016, but was forced to pull out after suffering a knee injury.

In 2017, she won Celebrity Big Brother.

How can you spot breast cancer?

The most common sign of breast cancer is a lump or thickening in the breast - but there are other symptoms too.

They include:

  • Change in size or feel of the breast
  • Changes in the skin of the breast, such as dimpling or redness
  • Fluid leaking from the nipple, outside of pregnancy or breast feeding
  • Change in position of the nipple

These symptoms can be caused by other conditions, so it is important to get any lumps or changes checked by a doctor.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, with women over 50 more at risk than the under-40s.

But there are many other factors that can increase a person's risk, including a family history of cancer and being overweight.

Many treatments are available for breast cancer and survival is generally good if the disease is detected early.

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