The self-described ‘Big Mouth’ brought a rock’n’roll ethos to the manufactured Girls Aloud

For the release of Girls Aloud’s signature 2004 single Love Machine, the girlband juggernaut’s long-term graphic designers Form created a fictional magazine cover for each member. While Cheryl Tweedy is coquettish in cat ears for the stylish Love … mag and Nadine Coyle graces the cover of the Hello!-esque Aloud!, Sarah Harding appears in army fatigues on the cover of Girls, her warpaint augmented by a huge sparkly grin. It quotes a lyric (“We’re heading for war”) accompanied by text that hammers the message home: “Fighting talk from Sarah.” It’s the perfect encapsulation of the pop persona that Harding, who has died from cancer at the age of 39, attracted and often relished: the unruly, fun-loving, tomboyish rebel – or, as she described it in her 2021 memoir, Hear Me Out, the “rock chick, blonde bombshell, party girl, the caner of the band”.

It was Harding’s energy and passion that often gave Girls Aloud an extra frisson of excitement on stage, whether she was endearingly stumbling through dance routines or hitting the odd bum note. Post-Spice Girls, UK pop had become polished and pre-teen again, but with Girls Aloud there was a sense that you should expect the unexpected. Much of that revolved around Harding. As a teenager in Manchester, she was a huge fan of Liam Gallagher, and brought a rock’n’roll ethos to a manufactured band that could easily have defaulted to rote media-trained sheen. (Tellingly, her favourite Girls Aloud single was the pummelling, guitar-led Wake Me Up.)

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