The singer, who announced last August on social media that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, died “peacefully” on Sunday (5 September) morning, her mother wrote on Instagram.
Ever since she rose to fame on reality series Popstars: The Rivals, Harding’s career has been characterised by periods of noise and periods of quiet.
Prior to the original announcement of her diagnosis last summer, it had been two years since Harding had last wrote on any of her social media channels. She specifically thanked her fans for “reaching out to check in on me” despite “not posting on here for so long”.
In March this year, she released her autobiography Hear Me Out, in which she revealed that the cancer had spread to her spine and Christmas 2020 was “probably my last”.
Growing up in Stockport, Manchester, with a talent for singing, Harding spent her early adult years working multiple jobs while performing in local pubs and clubs to support herself.
In 2002, aged 21, she auditioned for two of the UK’s biggest reality shows: Fame Academy and Popstars spin-off, Popstars: The Rivals.
It was on the latter where she found luck, with the show creating a “battle of the sexes”-esque competition to form new boy and girl groups to compete for the Christmas number one single. The oldest of the chosen group, Harding made it to the live finals, where she became the last person to join Cheryl Tweedy, Kimberley Walsh, Nadine Coyle and Nicola Roberts in new girl group Girls Aloud.
From there, it was all go. The group’s first original single “Sound of the Underground” shot to Christmas number one, before remaining in the top spot for four weeks. The Rivals’ boy band One True Voice closely followed in second place, but failed to match Girls Aloud’s success in their subsequent releases.
For the next seven years, Girls Aloud dominated the pop charts. The British-Irish girl group earned 20 consecutive top 10 singles, four of which were number one hits, while the five studio albums they recorded in that time all went platinum.
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Things peaked in 2009, when the critically-acclaimed, 1960s-inspired hit “The Promise” won Best Single at that year’s Brit Awards. During their acceptance speech, Harding memorably grabbed the microphone to shout “Can I just say, it’s about time” at the audience. It felt like a long overdue prize for the group, who had just that week signed a new three-album deal with their record label.
However, those albums never came to fruition, with an announcement in July 2009 declaring that the group were going on a year-long hiatus to focus on solo projects. This gave them the chance to pursue other opportunities, with Harding setting her sights on acting.
After Girls Aloud made a cameo appearance in the 2007 St Trinian’s remake, Harding went on to star in its 2009 sequel, The Legend of Fritton’s Gold, as well as make a well-received appearance opposite Dominic Cooper in BBC drama Freefall. She would also appear in a number of independent British films, such as Bad Day and Run For Your Wife.
The break also allowed Harding to deal with her problems regarding alcohol dependence and depression. She entered rehab in October 2011 to undergo treatment, citing an addiction to sleeping pills during a long-term relationship that had come to an end at the beginning of that year.
The following year, with the 10-year anniversary of the band’s formation looming, Girls Aloud announced a reunion that would include new songs and a new tour. Children in Need single “Something New” was a hit, and a greatest hits album, Ten, followed. However, things ended on a sour note after the group’s final ever single, the ballad “Beautiful ‘Cause You Love Me”, peaked at 97 in the UK single chart, the first of 23 singles not to reach the top 20. The band played their final tour date on 21 March and announced their split hours later via an infamously anticlimactic 88-word Twitter post.
Following the split, Harding swiftly announced that she would be following in the footsteps of her bandmates Cheryl and Nicola Roberts and releasing her debut solo album. A full-length solo record never materialised, however. Harding’s first EP, Threads, was released three years later.
At the same time, Harding had been given a guest role in Coronation Street, allowing her to return to acting. When that finished, she appeared on a number of reality TV series. She’d already competed on gymnastics competition show Tumble, and went on to complete stints on Celebrity MasterChef, The Jump and Celebrity Big Brother, which she won in 2017, making her the show’s last female winner before it was axed.