Tuesday July 26, 2022

Sarah Harding teaches us about female friendship

Sarah Harding teaches us about female friendship

Sarah Harding, Cheryl

Victoria Richards, The Independent

Girls Aloud took part in a charity run in memory of their late bandmate Sarah Harding this weekend, wearing bright pink T-shirts to “race for life” together through the park — and what a fitting tribute.

Ahead of the run, Cheryl said she “still can’t quite believe” that Harding was gone. “To be honest, I’ve never experienced or anticipated this grief,” she said. And that is the beauty of Harding’s legacy: news of the 39-year-old’s death last September from breast cancer seemed to 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 speak only 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 Noel 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 boyfriend. You just knew somehow that Sarah would tell you he was wrong and that there were plenty more fish in the sea, in that lovely, “normal” (by which I mean Manchester/southeastern 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 might 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 would organise childcare to help her out when she goes for reconstructive surgery tomorrow, after her own double mastectomy 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.

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