If you want a truly accurate grasp on a person's character, you shouldn't look at how they behave when things are going well. Those in the public eye are especially guilty of showing kindness or empathy when the cameras are flashing, letting their smiles fade and their tears dry as soon as the glare of the public has ceased. If you want to know how strong, how kind, how generous someone is, then you often have to wait until they are facing true adversity. It is tragic that our perceptions of a person often shift when the going gets tough. But in the case of Sarah Harding, the Girls Aloud singer who has spoken at length about her breast cancer diagnosis, the sadness of her story is accompanied by positive action and real generosity.
Sarah announced her diagnosis in August of last year, and in March she released her autobiography, Hear Me Out: My Story, My Words, My Life. In it, she explained that she had delayed going to the GP to report a painful lump. It is a brave thing to discuss. Many of those who wait before booking their appointments, who don't want to burden others, who are scared of what answers they might find, will read her story and think 'enough is enough.' It would have been easy for Sarah to focus on herself at a trying time, to spend every waking moment with friends and family, lockdown rules be damned. Having established that she doesn't anticipate surviving the year, she has no desperate need for the proceeds of a tell-all memoir. But putting her words to paper is an heirloom to those who love her: those who know her personally, of course, but also the fans who grew up with her on their televisions, her songs playing on repeat in their ears. But, most vitally, it's also not an exaggeration to say that Sarah's book, while a devastating read, is going to save lives, just as Jade Goody's campaigning before her death of cervical cancer led to a surge in the numbers of women seeking smear tests.
Sarah has not stopped at the book. Following an interview with The Times Magazine, Sarah's fans launched an unofficial campaign to show that they were thinking of her by bringing Hear Me Out - a song Sarah co-wrote for Girls Aloud album What Will The Neighbours Say - back to the charts. It hit number one on the iTunes chart and entered the top 40 of the official chart. Sarah was moved and touched, but she also clearly realised that the wave of support could be more than a gesture. It could be monetised. So this week, she released Wear It Like A Crown, a song she recorded in 2004 but never before saw the light of day. Proceeds will benefit The Christie NHS Foundation. It also hit number one on iTunes this week.
Sarah's ordeal has hit people, hard. Many of us were at school when she walked into the audition room on Popstars: The Rivals and began her fame journey. We watched her sing every Saturday night, saw her chosen for the final five-piece that would become this country's most successful girl bands since the Spice Girls. And, when these five women stepped back from the industry, we kept an eye on their solo work. Sarah starred in a few films - most notably St Trinians 2 - and won Celebrity Big Brother. She has always felt like one of the gang, the sort of person who would fit right in to our own friendship groups if she happened to join your table at the pub. Perhaps that's why her pain hits us so hard: we are instinctively treating her as a friend, not as a celebrity.
Sarah has been frank about her chances. She says that Christmas just gone was her last. It is horrible to witness someone we have 'known' for almost twenty years suffer. But if there is such thing as a silver lining, it is that she is using her precious time to do something truly impactful. By raising funds, and increasing awareness, Sarah is ensuring that there are women out there who won't share her fate. It's commendable, brave and, for anyone who has followed the career of this outspoken and fun-loving woman, completely unsurprising.