News of Sarah Harding’s death from breast cancer, aged just 39, appears to have hit harder than many people expected it to, but perhaps there’s a simple reason for that. Perhaps it’s because Sarah Harding embodied everything life – and pop – is supposed to be.
From afar (those who knew her personally would of course know best, and I can only speak in humble tribute as a casual observer) she came across as the type of girl who, if you were to bump into her at a party, would immediately give you a hug and tell you a devilishly dirty joke when nobody was listening. The kind of woman you’d be drawn to, like a magnet, because some people in a crowd are like that – some people are radiators or life buoys; the kind of people you want to be around, the kind of people who make you feel safe and loved, as if you’ve strayed off a dark road only to suddenly find yourself struck by a streetlight’s comforting glow.
With her infectious energy, mischievous smile and gorgeous, Hollywood siren looks (she would not have been out of place in black and white in a Noël Coward screenplay), there was always something about Sarah Harding that screamed “BFF in the loos at a nightclub”; the type of girl who would lend you her lipstick without a second’s thought and stroke your hair if you were being sick or crying over your shi*ty boyfriend. You just knew somehow that Sarah would tell you he was shi*ty and that there were plenty more fish in the sea, in that lovely, “normal” (by which I mean Manchester/South-Eastern mish-mash) accent of hers.
Sarah exuded fun and froth, warmth and light and dazzle, even from the remote distance of a TV screen or red carpet. Can anything be more fitting than the star’s own tattoo? Scratched into her back: “Don’t be bitter – glitter”. No wonder she won Celebrity Big Brother in 2017; no wonder she became a reality TV stalwart; no wonder she was picked to form Girls Aloud in the first place.
For those of us growing up in the 2000s – a decade marked by Saturday night takeaways and groups gathering together, collectively hungover, to soak up programmes such as ITV’s Popstars: The Rivals – Sarah Harding represented a distinct era of pop music; one played out in nightclubs, student unions and karaoke bars to shrieks of delight (or good-natured, performative dismay) every time Sound of the Underground or Love Machine started blaring. Even those of us with a punkier bent would secretly tap out the rhythm to Something Kinda Ooooh when nobody was watching.
I may not have known Sarah Harding personally, but I’ve known and loved women who remind me of her; women the exact same age as Sarah was when she died, impossibly young women whose lives have been ripped apart by health diagnoses they never saw coming. Yesterday, one of my closest friends and I shared our mutual sorrow over Sarah’s death while we talked about the practicalities of how we’ll organise childcare to help her out when she goes for reconstructive surgery tomorrow, following her own double masectomy for breast cancer in 2019.
The passing of someone so technicolour, so joyful and vibrant, lingers and affects us all because she reminds us of our friends, our sisters, ourselves. Sarah showed us all what it is to be strong, career-driven and determined, while also carrying a certain softness; a fragility, a vulnerability. A real good laugh to go out with, but someone you could also imagine would cry freely. Someone who wasn’t afraid to “own” her issues – she even checked herself into rehab after admitting she was struggling with depression and alcohol addiction.
Yet despite the occasional rocky road, Sarah’s mother’s heartfelt Instagram post about her daughter this week, in which she described her as “a bright shining star and I hope that’s how she can be remembered” says it all. Loved and lost and no doubt, dearly missed.
And if there’s one thing we can all learn from her luscious life-lived-fabulously, it’s not to take a second of it for granted.
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