Born: November 17, 1981;

Died: September 5, 2021.

SARAH Harding achieved incredible success as a member of Girls Aloud, one of the UK’s most successful female groups, enjoying no fewer than 20 consecutive top 10 singles, including four Number Ones, and five platinum albums.

The singer had the classic looks that made her photographer’s dream, and her pictures suggested a perfect life. But away from the camera lens, she often struggled to cope.

Her relationship break-ups made headlines continually. Her battles with alcohol and drugs were so often documented. Her coping strategy, at times, seemed non-existent.

The greatest tragedy, however, was that Sarah Harding never had the chance to turn her life around. At the age of 39 she has lost her battle against cancer.

But her personal story perhaps explains why her life so often veered in the direction of cruel complexity. She grew up in Stockport, Greater Manchester, with two stepbrothers, but after her parents split she never spoke to her father John Hardman again, citing how he’d let down her mother. She changed her name to Harding.

“Looking back”, she said later, “I think the split was more destructive and destabilising than I realised, because I started bunking off school and getting into trouble.”

The teenage Sarah may have been troubled but she was also a grafter. She worked in a hair and make-up salon, took on promotions work, and, a talented singer, began performing in local pubs and clubs all over the North-west to support herself.

In 2002, aged 21, her life changed for ever when she auditioned for ITV series Pop Stars: The Rivals, and sang the Jackson’s I’ll Be There. Judges Pete Waterman, Geri Halliwell and Louis Walsh were captivated, and Harding went on to be part of Girls Aloud, featuring Nicola Roberts, Nadine Coyle, Kimberley Walsh and Cheryl Tweedy.

Their number one British hits were Sound of the Underground, I’ll Stand By You, Walk This Way (with Sugababes) and The Promise; other hits included Jump, The Show, Something Kinda Ooooh, and Wake Me Up.

Harding, however, seemed to develop a habit for excess, repeatedly featuring in tabloids, seeming the last to leave a nightclub, all too often looking the worst for wear. Her relationship stories, of tales of intimate encounters in pub car-parks, were sold to the press.

But she was ambitious to be seen away from the microphone. After Girls Aloud made a cameo appearance in the 2007 St Trinian’s remake, Harding starred in its sequel.

She also attracted positive reviews for her role opposite Dominic Cooper in a BBC drama, Freefall, and appeared in several independent British films, such as Bad Day and Run For Your Wife.

After a relationship breakdown in 2011, however, her life went to pot: “I was on a treadmill of booze, sleeping pills and drugs if they were around. Anything to numb the pain.”

While in a relationship with George Best’s son Calum, she became hooked on cocaine. “I could see the powder on the table, so I walked over and looked down at it. ---- it, I thought, what’s good for the goose and all that.”

While her former bandmate Cheryl Tweedy reinvented herself as a TV pundit, Harding struggled to find a niche. Girls Aloud reunited in 2012 after a short hiatus, to release and tour a greatest hits album. But Harding struggled to deal with the inconsistency in her career.

A short stint in Coronation Street didn’t result in her agent’s phone ringing off the hook with offers. “Corrie is shot at a very fast pace, and they literally threw me in at the deep end,” she recalled. “In fact, my very first day on set was pretty much all screaming, crying and slapping.”

When work on the soap finished, she took to reality TV series. She had already competed on a gymnastics competition show, Tumble, and went on to complete stints on Celebrity MasterChef. Bold – and brave – enough to take part in ski leap show The Jump in 2016, she injured her knee ligament badly.

She also tried to develop a career in musical theatre. With her singing talent and looks she seemed a perfect fit, but in 2107 she was forced to pull out of her leading role in the stage musical, Ghost, after critics claimed her voice had been slurred and her acting limited. she blamed the painkillers she had been taking.

That same year however, she won Celebrity Big Brother. But it was something of a pyrrhic victory, satisfying a voyeuristic audience. She broke down in tears several times, the result of an on-screen relationship crash and continued fights with another contestant.

The show revealed a hugely fragile woman. “I went in there intending to show people a different side of me,” she reflected. “I’d been portrayed in the media as this mad, off-the-rails party girl. Somewhere, amongst the nightclubs, the frocks and the hairdos, the big chart hits and the glamour of being a popstar, the other Sarah Harding got utterly lost.”

In her autobiography Hear Me Out, published earlier this year, she wrote: “In December my doctor told me that the upcoming Christmas would probably be my last. I don’t want an exact prognosis. I don’t know why anyone would want that. Comfort and being as pain-free as possible is what’s important to me now… I’m at a stage now where I don’t know how many months I have left. Who knows, maybe I’ll surprise everyone, but that’s how I’m looking at things.”

Part of the reason for writing her own story was to warn others not to wait until it was too late to be checked for cancer.

And she was determined to leave this world with a smile on her face. “I think what I’d really like to do is to see everyone — all my friends, all together, one last time,” she said. “Then I’d throw a great big ---- -off party as a way to say thank you – and goodbye.”