'My pal Sarah Harding's friendship meant the world - martinis, advice and funny DMs'

By Daniel Bird

I grew up as a massive fan of Girls Aloud. From seeing them on Popstars: The Rivals, to watching their final concert together in 2013, my life was pretty much pop music.

I'd followed their career since 2002 and made so many friends through these five women who I had only ever seen on screen or on a stage.

Now, aged 26, I'm still a huge fan of Girls Aloud, probably more so after a drink or two on a night out but thanks to them, I've created lasting memories that I will cherish.

Sadly, Sarah Harding died this Sunday aged just 39, something I sort of expected but also didn't want to believe would happen.

I first met Sarah in 2013, several months after Girls Aloud had split up during the summer holidays while she was working in Manchester.

(Daniel Bird)

Myself and a group of friends jumped on the coach and went along to see her and after Sarah had seen pictures of my dogs on Twitter, the first thing I heard was, "Where are the dogs?!" before she said hello to us all.

That day, I instantly realised that Sarah wasn't somebody who everybody thought she was, we joked about her fame and she started becoming shy and giggly, a side to her that not many people saw.

She took me and my friends into the bar of her hotel, bought us (soft) drinks and fries while she sipped on a French Martini.

To Sarah, I was "Ginge" and "cheeki face", nicknames she called me by, never Daniel, just Ginge. Most of my signed memorabilia is "2 Ginge," which still makes me laugh after all these years.

Nicknamed Hardcore Harding, she truly kept to that and was always busy, whether it was working on music or her former fashion brand, YogiSnap.

While many "celebrities" rarely interact with fans privately, Sarah was always DMing me on social media, mainly laughing at me for being hungover while at uni.

(Daniel Bird)

Sarah probably didn't class me as a friend but to me, she was one, I could turn to her when I needed advice or just something to cheer me up.

One year, a group of us organised to send her a birthday present, a pair of Alexander McQueen sunglasses and 100 bags of Skittles as she'd told us she loved them.

Most artists probably wouldn't acknowledge this but Sarah sent me a string of messages and was beyond grateful that a few of us had chipped in and gone out of our way without her knowing.

This was the real Sarah, somebody who was happy, grounded and never let her fame change her, she was still the bubbly girl from Manchester - despite the fact she was a member of Girls Aloud.

One thing I loved the most about her when I first met Sarah she knew I was turning 18 in a few weeks and told me she would try and be at my party.

She took all the relevant information from me, the venue, date, time... However, she ended up having work commitments and Skyped me to apologise, something she didn't have to do, but she did.

Despite not seeing her in several years, we remained in contact, sharing the odd message or seeing "sarahnicoleharding liked your post" on Instagram, mainly of my dogs because she loved them so much.

Last year, I was rocked when I read her post and hearing she had been diagnosed with breast cancer - not just breast cancer, cancer that had spread throughout her body.

(Daniel Bird)

My whole childhood, for almost 20 years of my life, I'd been a fan of this incredible woman and I couldn't believe that something so horrid could happen to her.

I couldn't quite comprehend the extent of her diagnosis and it broke my heart reading her autobiography, Hear Me Out, reading that Christmas 2020 was going to be her last.

The news on Sunday broke me. I didn't want it to be real and it suddenly became real reading her mum Marie's heartbreaking Instagram post.

Sarah was a fighter, a true Northerner and I'd hoped that she would kick cancer's ass and be on stage next year, celebrating 20 years of Girls Aloud being her true self, a star.

That is what Sarah should be remembered as, a shining star, brightening up whatever room she was in with her infectious cackle, her amazing smile or her breathtaking voice.

I'll always hold my memories with Sarah close to me and she will continue to be remembered by me and also my family, who felt like they knew her through me.

Hardcore Harding, this French Martini is for you.


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