THERE was a time when Girls Aloud’s relationships were so fractured that it seemed unlikely they’d ever get back together.
After their split in 2013, Cheryl and Nadine Coyle had a huge, public falling out.
And Cheryl, Nicola Roberts and Kimberley Walsh hadn’t spoken to Sarah Harding – who tragically died yesterday, aged 39 – or Nadine in years.
Their original manager Louis Walsh even claimed the girls “never liked each other”.
But, when Sarah was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer last year, the girls – who met and were put together on Popstars: The Rivals in 2002 – rallied around and finally put all their differences aside.
They enjoyed a secret reunion weekend away at Soho Farmhouse earlier this year.
Cheryl said at the time: "It was a lovely trip away for us all, and Sarah was at her best."
But things haven't always been so rosy for the band members.
‘Nadine is full of s**t!’
Girls Aloud were put together on Popstars: The Rivals in 2002, and went on to secure 21 top ten singles, including four number ones.
The band took a break in 2009, but returned in 2012 with a comeback tour to mark their tenth anniversary, before officially splitting again in 2013.
At the time, Nadine told her fans that her bandmates were to blame for the break-up.
She wrote on Twitter: “You should know by now I had no part in any of this split business.
"I couldn't stop them. I had the best time & want to keep going. Xxxx"
But a furious Cheryl hit back, telling Attitude magazine that Nadine was “full of s***” and accused her of holding the band to “ransom”.
She said: "She was the one who wanted to make a solo record. Which is why we took the hiatus.
“She wants to come out and say we broke the band up? No! She shouldn’t tell porkie pies.
"Okay, so do you want us to tell the truth? She wasn’t going to make another Girls Aloud record until she got a solo deal.
“I feel she held us to ransom and then made her solo record deal."
Hadn’t spoken for six years
Six years later, Nadine confessed she and Cheryl still hadn’t spoken.
In fact, the only one of her bandmates she’d been in contact with was Sarah – who won Celebrity Big Brother in 2017.
In 2019, Nadine told the Mirror: “I haven’t seen or spoken to them since the end of Girls Aloud or just before I had my daughter.
“That’s about six years ago, Sarah more recently at the start of Big Brother.”
‘A huge divide’
Nadine also confirmed there was always a huge divide in Girls Aloud.
While Kimberley, Cheryl and Nicola stayed close, and were often seen out together, Nadine and Sarah drifted apart.
On being asked if there was a divide, Nadine told The Sun: “Definitely.
"It’s so sad for me to have to admit this stuff now because for so long there’s the band, and you want everybody to think we’re best friends and we have pillow fights and drink milkshakes.
“That’s what I wanted it to be, but it just wasn’t how it was.
“So yeah, there was a divide. We’re all very, very different characters.”
Nadine also confessed her bandmates felt bitterness towards her, due to the fact she would get more solos than them.
She told us in 2013: “It was fine at the start but there’s always politics in any band.
“It just happened that I always got more vocals than everybody else, so in terms of people wanting their voice heard, that wasn’t happening.
“And it made people very bitter.
“They didn’t like that.”
‘They never liked each other’
Manager, Louis Walsh, said the split was inevitable as Cheryl, Sarah, Nicola, Kimberley and Nadine didn’t even like each other.
Speaking on Kate Thornton's Paper Cuts on BBC Radio 2 in 2014, Louis responded to claims that he didn't give the girl group a lot of his time.
"I didn't give them a lot of my time but they didn't give me time and they didn't even like each other!" he said.
“It was problems from day one there.
“I contacted them as much as I could but they didn't like each other.”
The former X Factor judge went on to claim that their problems stemmed from the other girls being jealous of Nadine’s talent.
He continued: "It was never going to work because I said Nadine was the best singer and she was.
“She was the voice of Girls Aloud."
Sarah’s cancer diagnosis
Last year, Sarah revealed the heartbreaking news she was suffering with stage 4 breast cancer.
And the girls immediately did "everything they can" to support her after she privately broke the sad news to them over the phone, a few days earlier.
A source told the Mirror: "They’ve all shed a lot of tears but all of the girls vowed to be strong and be there for her no matter what. They are closer than ever as a unit.
"Sarah is very unwell and is living at home with her mum.
“They are both being very strong and everyone is doing all they can to support them both."
A ‘tearful’ secret reunion
The five girls quickly put all their differences aside and had a secret reunion at Soho Farmhouse together – the first time they’d all been together in eight years.
Sarah revealed in her autobiography Hear Me Out that she was anxious about seeing her former bandmates after having treatment for breast cancer.
She wrote: “The steroids I’d been taking made me look bloated, and I’d lost my eyelashes due to the chemo.
“It’s not that I thought they wouldn’t understand or be judgemental, of course; it’s just that when we were together as a group, part of our thing was the glamour.
“As a band, we all had our own styles and looks, but there was a sexiness and glamorousness about Girls Aloud that I just wasn’t able to rise to them.”
During their reunion they rewatched their 2006 documentary-style E4 show Girls Aloud: Off The Record.
Sarah said: “We were all so different then. There was a sort of sweet naivety about us.
“Watching Off the Record provoked lots of laughing and even more cringing, but I have to say, I looked on fondly. ‘You only miss this when it’s gone,’ I told the girls.”
Cheryl added of the trip: “When we all got together at Soho Farmhouse, there were no tears.
“Actually, that’s not entirely true; there were tears, but they were from laughter rather than sadness.
“It was a lovely trip away for us all, and Sarah was at her best.
“She’s always been funny and sharp-witted, but somehow, in all this, she’s even funnier. God knows how!”
‘She knows she can ask us for anything’
It was when she was diagnosed with breast cancer that Sarah decided to write her autobiography.
She wanted to use it as a way of raising awareness about the importance of checking your breasts, as she had put off going to the doctor’s with her symptoms.
Sarah’s book – released in March – also brought Girls Aloud back together, as they would share memories to help her write her book.
Talking of how Sarah was doing last year, Kimberley said: "She’s amazing actually.
"She’s just managed to write an autobiography. I don’t know how she’s managed to do that but I think she was glad to have something to focus on.
"We haven’t read it but we have been chatting to her a lot about memories just to help her remember stuff.”
She continued: "With anyone who’s suffering from cancer, that is the one thing you do feel is completely helpless.
"All you can do is literally be there, constantly remind them that you’re there to help with whatever is humanely possible.
"And she knows, she fully knows that, and that’s all that I care about that she knows that she can ask us for anything.”
Cheryl’s ‘spiritual’ Facetiming
After her diagnosis, Cheryl started staying in contact with Sarah, regularly FaceTiming her for hours on end and messaging her.
The pair had deep conversations about what would happen when Sarah eventually died.
In Sarah’s book, Cheryl said: "I think of myself as a spiritual person, and I guess Sarah does too, so there's been an honesty between us when we talk about what might be.
"I've always believed that the end of our life on Planet Earth isn't the end of everything and that we go to an incredible place once it's over."
She continued: "That's something I'll always keep reminding her.
"We've also made a pact that if and when she's left us, she's going to come back and visit me.
"We haven't decided exactly what form she might take, or what sign she might give to let me know it's her, but I said I don't mind as long as she doesn't come when I'm on the loo."
Wine and cheese night with Nadine
Nadine was also quick to comfort Sarah.
Sarah opened up about drowning her sorrows with her pal in her autobiography, spending an evening with the Irish star, crying, drinking wine and eating cheese, as her friend told her how much she loved her.
She said: "Throughout the evening, we all had our moments of hysterical laughter followed by tears.
"At one point, Nadine told me in no uncertain terms how much she cared about me: 'You don't understand, Sarah. I love you!'"
"OK, so it wasn't like the nights of wild partying I did back in the day, but it was still very special."
‘My heart is aching’
Since Sarah’s tragic death yesterday, Cheryl, Nadine, Kimberley and Nicola have shared tributes to their late friend.
And Nicola’s post on Instagram made it clear how much they’d been in touch recently, after years apart.
Sharing a snap of herself and Sarah together, the Masked Singer winner wrote: "I’m absolutely devastated and I can’t accept that this day has come.
"My heart is aching and all day everything we went through together has raced round my mind.
“Especially this last year since her diagnosis, as hard as the year has been, our new memories are strong in my heart."
Sarah’s death is absolutely heartbreaking, but it’s clear that, if one good thing has come out of it, it’s brought the Girls Aloud girls back together.
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