Sarah Harding – Fabulous

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SARAH Harding would be the first to admit that life hasn’t always been exactly kind or panned out in the way she’d hoped.

The heartache at the hands of unsuitable boyfriends, the wild partying, heavy boozing and eventual crash and burn that saw her wind up in rehab – all on top of the struggle to establish herself away from Girls Aloud… none of it has been easy.

But if fortune favours the brave, then Sarah is well overdue a truckload of luck.

With a cameo role in Coronation Street and the possibility of a reprisal further down the line, her long-awaited debut solo material about to be released, plus a new (entirely suitable, it appears) boyfriend, it feels like she is finally getting the fresh start she’s been searching for.

This, she says, is her new chapter.

“It really, really is. And it’s about time! My 20s were all heartbreaks and hangovers.

“I’m done with that and now it’s time to get real.”

She sounds hopeful yet jittery, like there’s a lot riding on the next few weeks.

Perhaps with good grounds, she attributes much of her problematic past to men – their bad behaviour and her poor choices – although she acknowledges that her extreme personality has also landed her in hot water.

Sarah, 33, doesn’t handle boredom well.

But it was the breakdown of her turbulent four-year relationship with DJ fiancé Tom Crane, 34, in 2011 that hit her the hardest, and she checked into rehab shortly afterwards.

“Bloody men!” she shrieks, covering her face with her hands.

“I probably could’ve picked a few better ones. But I think we’re put on this planet to learn, and if it wasn’t for those experiences I had in my life, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I don’t regret things.”

Sarah isn’t what you might expect.

Her reputation as lairy, brash and brimming with cockiness precedes her, but she’s actually none of those things.

She is, however, sweet-natured, a little scatty and eager – anxious, even – to please.

There’s a vulnerability about her, an awkwardness, and her conversation is punctuated with nervous laughter.

“I’ve got that sort of fierce-looking face where people think I’m actually like that, but I’m the total opposite when you get to know me. I’m a bit more guarded because I’ve been let down quite a bit in the past.

“So I’m a lot more selective about who I let into my life,” she says.
“I definitely have a lot more acquaintances than I have friends now. I think that’s all part of the journey.

“I’ve been through the mill, definitely, but I’ve turned it around and I hope people can empathise with that. I’ve come a long way from where I began.”

Not half. These days “green-fingered” (her words) Sarah is more likely to be tending the veg patch at her country pad than staggering out of clubs.

Hardcore Harding? You’ve changed.

“I know! Me and Jason have been re-planting all my beetroots, because I’m mad on beetroot juicing.”

And so, to Jason.

After splitting with music producer Mark Foster last year, Sarah has been seeing this new man, known only as Jason, for the last six months. She starts off by insisting that she doesn’t want to “jinx” things by talking about him when it’s still “early days”.

“I don’t wanna talk about relationships!” she says. “That’s all I’m gonna say on that one.”

Pfft. It actually only takes the tiniest bit of teasing to get her to open up.

What does he do?

[Vaguely]: “He’s just a businessman.”

What sort of business?

[Clamming up]: “He’s in IT.”

So, just really ordinary then?

[Slightly aghast]: “No, I wouldn’t say ordinary!”

But he has a normal job?

[Practically affronted]: “Well no, he, like, owns his own offshore IT company.”

Ah! Not so ordinary then.
“But he’s at completely the opposite end of the spectrum compared to the other guys. God, ‘other guys’,” she checks herself. “That sounds terrible! Ha ha!

“What I mean is he’s definitely more stable, much more career-focused – the pair of us are, which means we don’t see much of each other at the moment, which is quite sad. But we’re both really hard-working people and we just want the best for our futures.

“Some people say it’s nice to be with someone who is involved in the industry because they understand your job and blah, blah, blah. But, you know, the last few boyfriends I’ve had have been in the music business and they’ve not gone so spiffingly.”

She bursts into peals of laughter at her own turn of phrase. “I’ve known the guy a long time, we had mutual friends, so it’s not like we were strangers. He lives in London and I live way out, and so when I’m busy I don’t really get to see him.

“I feel like a single mum with all me animals. I’m like a mad cat and dog woman.”

Does it feel different this time then?

Sarah smiles with the weariness of a woman who has had more than her fill of hurt and replies simply: “It always feels different.”

Leaving London for Buckinghamshire a few years ago has helped her settle down and refocus.

She briefly moved back to the capital before Christmas, but found it too noisy, too busy and impossible to readjust.

“I’m so used to it out in the country now, I don’t think I could live central again. I’m definitely wiser and a lot calmer. Well, most of the time. I’ve grown up a lot.

“I was young back then, you know? And sometimes very stupid. I hate it when papers use pictures of me from the past and I’m just like: ‘Who is that girl?’

“I haven’t been to a nightclub in god knows how long!

“I sound like an old woman, but I haven’t even heard of most places now. People say: ‘Oh, have you not been to that place?’ and I’m like: ‘Where? What place?’ Ha ha!”

That’s not to say she’s given up alcohol completely.

“No, I wouldn’t say I’m teetotal. I’m just not the lunatic I used to be.

“I used to think I was Liam Gallagher, flicking the Vs at the camera, thinking I was rock ‘n’ roll.”
She says she’s always been all or nothing, wearing her heart on her sleeve and throwing everything she’s got into whatever it is she’s doing. But at the other end of that comes an inevitable crash. Sarah describes herself as either a “hyperactive puppy or a dead dog”, with nothing in-between. “There’s no happy medium with me. It’s so weird. But I’ve been like that since I was a little girl – my poor mother!

“A lot of [the partying] was just boredom and I was living in London, going out with a DJ, and I think that just became a way of life. I think being busy is good for me, you know? When I’m not busy, that’s when I get bored, and I’m like: ‘Ugh!’ I need stimulation. I’m your typical hyper sort of girl who always needs, I dunno, something.”

Just as well, then, that she happens to be extremely busy at the moment. She’s in the middle of a short stint on Coronation Street, which sees her playing Joni, the wife of Tracy Barlow’s first husband Robert. It might be her first truly high-profile acting job, but Sarah wasn’t given the part purely because of who she is.

For the last few years, she’s been gaining experience with a series of smaller roles in both St Trinian’s movies and Brit flick Run For Your Wife. She got called back three times for the part of Emma Frost in X-Men: First Class, a role eventually won by January Jones. Nevertheless, she knows there will be scrutiny and that some will be gunning for her.

“There was a lot of pressure, and I know there’s gonna be real soap fans who are like: ‘What’s she doing, she’s a singer!’

But I’ve played my role to the best of my ability and I hope I’ve done everyone proud. I felt really honoured to be on a soap that I’m a fan of.”

Corrie will also act as “a little springboard” for her music, which remains Sarah’s first love. She describes the single Threads as “very gritty for a first song”, having written it while she “had the hump” with someone who shall remain nameless. “Nooo! I’m not saying who, no chance! Ha ha ha! I’m not gonna give them the satisfaction. It’s quite moody, but I think it’s got quite a nice feel to it as well, and there’s a message in it to say you’ve just got to let things go.”

Sarah has been saying for years that her solo stuff is imminent, but it’s never materialised until now. Apparently, she’d be working on tracks for so long that when the time came to think about releasing them, they were “outdated”. Last year, she “scrapped everything and started again”.

But the charts can be a brutal business, and Sarah is mindful of what has happened to the likes of Leona Lewis, whose latest single reached a lowly 51. Alesha Dixon had a similar setback, and even Cheryl Fernandez-Versini’s last offering Only Human failed to scrape into the Top 40.
“It is really unpredictable and you can never tell. That’s why I thought it would be better to start with an EP and see what happens, rather than spending s**tloads of money making a full album and it just not going anywhere.

“But I hope people like what I’ve done, because it’s more ‘me’ than anything I’ve ever done before.”

She’d never say never to a Girls Aloud reunion if it was for a one-off special occasion, but admits she rarely sees the others these days.

Nevertheless, she looks momentarily stung when reminded that Kimberley wrote in her autobiography that she wouldn’t have been friends with her (or Nadine, for that matter) had it not been for the band.

“I think me and Nadine were just more independent,” she explains.

“I had my own set of friends outside the band, because when you’re together 24/7 of course you’re not going to get on with each other all the time.

“I spoke to Cheryl and Kimberley a few months ago and was like: ‘I really miss you guys,’ so it would be really nice just to get together and reminisce.”

Ask her how her confidence is and she describes a constant tussle. “I think it changes day by day. I’m not quite there yet, but I’m working on it.”

Four years ago, Sarah admitted to Fabulous to having had fillers in her lips. She said that approaching 30 had prompted a mini-crisis and she’d panicked. But the backlash was enough to put her off any other form of surgery forever: “No chance! I think it’s pretty obvious I got a right good ribbing for [the lips].”

Her incredibly smooth skin would suggest otherwise, but she insists it’s all down to some miracle facial that tones and tightens muscles and is completely au naturel.

“It’s a bit like what Amanda Holden has – the collagen waves – and it’s amazing,” she enthuses.

Whatever is keeping her so wrinkle-free, Sarah is wholeheartedly positive about her future. “I know what I want out of life now, and in the next few years: kids. I want some little bubbas, some mini-mes.”

And would Jason be the potential father? “I’m not going to try and predict the future, because I tried to do that in the past and it didn’t work out.

“I’m definitely happier,” she says. “I’m just myself, and to some people it’s annoying, but I’m not going to be someone I’m not.”

You can’t help but root for her. She deserves a break.

“Thank you,” she says. “Maybe if I hadn’t gone through what I had, then who knows? But I think it’s finally all coming together. This feels like it’s how it should be.”

Sarah’s single Threads is released on August 7 and is available to pre-order now.

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Sarah Harding Corrie interview 7

Coronation Street airs Sarah Harding’s first scenes next week as she makes a dramatic debut as Robert Preston’s wife Joni.

The former Girls Aloud singer will appear on the ITV soap for a short stint, which will see Joni discover that Tracy Barlow has become a rival for Robert’s affections.

Here, Sarah chats about her time on set and the battle ahead with Tracy!
How did your involvement in Coronation Street come about?
“I was on the Corrie set last year with Good Morning Britain as I was doing the Great Meal Appeal. We got chatting and everyone could see that I’m a really big fan of the show. I went a bit mental running round the set getting pictures outside Audrey’s, The Rovers, Roy’s Rolls and the ginnel, as everyone probably saw on my Twitter! I was very excited!

“I’ve been a fan of the show for years. My mum’s side of the family are all from up north. So I said to my manager, ‘Do you think they’d be up for me making a cameo appearance?’ I’ve done some acting before as I’ve appeared in a few films.”

Did you have to keep it a secret?
“I did! I didn’t really tell anyone, only my mum and my fella. I was so excited but nervous at the same time. I’m honoured to have a part in this programme but I was a bit overwhelmed with it! It’s a lot of pressure as well. When it got announced, no-one believed it because it was April Fool’s Day! I was like, ‘Yeah, it’s true!'”

How have your fans responded to the news?
“They are so excited. But I really hope I can do the Coronation Street audience justice as well as my fans. I hope I can cross over.”
There’s already been talk of you returning for more than your current stint of 4 episodes. Would you like to come back?
“I think it depends on the storyline and obviously I’ve got my music coming out this summer, so there’s loads going on for me. But obviously I’d love to come back and do some more bits and bobs. We don’t know at the moment but we’re just going to wait and see what happens.”

Will there be trouble ahead between Joni and Tracy Barlow?
“I was thrown in at the deep end, I really was! I started filming on the first day with Kate Ford who plays Tracy. She is the complete opposite of her character, she’s so lovely. I did scenes with Kate, Tristan Gemmill who plays Robert and Lisa George who plays Beth. It was really nerve-wrecking.

“We were filming on location, so there were paparazzi and there was a lot to learn. We actually filmed at a restaurant in Didsbury where I used to go to! But it was good fun, I got to give Tracy a slap! I’d be screaming and shouting at her, but as soon as they said ‘cut’ we’d be laughing and giggling!”

Is Joni shocked when she finds out that Robert is pursuing Tracy?
“Yeah, it is a shock. Joni has moved up with Robert to help run his restaurant, but he’s still holding a torch for Tracy. Joni’s not happy about it at all, so I play a woman on the edge but she is vulnerable at the same time.

“She does come across as angry and feisty, but she is also hurting and people have got to remember that. If you caught your husband having an affair, you would be, wouldn’t you?”

What has Robert and Joni’s marriage been like?
“Joni says something like, ‘I was expecting a lot more from the way you go on about her!’ Joni is aware that she’s not living up to Tracy’s standards. But then she turns up and sees Tracy and she’s like, ‘Really? Is that what I’m up against?’

“She is constantly in Tracy’s shadow. She is living a lie really and trying to believe that Robert will fall madly in love with her over time, but he’s never really lost that torch for Tracy. She is shocked when she sees them together and there are fireworks!”

What were your first scenes on the famous Corrie cobbles like?
“It’s weird, it’s such a massive institution. I shot on the cobbles for the time a few weeks ago with Malcom Hebden who plays Norris. That was good fun. Joni is trying to bang down Tracy’s front door and poor Norris gets in the firing line!”

How does Corrie compare to doing films?
“Corrie is very fast-paced. You have to learn on the spot sometimes. But with films you have a lot longer to do read-throughs and run-throughs. It’s very different with soaps, so for me it’s been a learning curve and it’s not always been easy but I’m so glad I’ve done it. It’s been a massive honour as well, because Corrie is one of my favourite soaps.”

Would you like your future to be in music or acting?
“Side by side, I think. I love my music but I love to think I have other options. I did train in acting when I was younger, which a lot of people don’t know. It mixes things up a little bit and keeps things interesting. I think these days you need to be more of an all-rounder.”
Have your former Girls Aloud bandmates been positive about you joining Corrie?
“Oh, they’ve been great. I don’t know if you saw their tweets but they’ve been really supportive. I spoke to Kimberley a few weeks ago, but we’re all so busy that it’s impossible to get us all in one room together at the moment.

“I was supposed to be there the other week when they got together. I kind of arranged that but I missed out because I had to work. But things are just mental busy at the moment. I’ve done Celebrity MasterChef, Corrie and my music, but it’s great to be busy.”

What kind of reaction do you think you’ll get from appearing on Corrie?
“I think it’s going to be a mixed reaction. People are going to be expecting a high standard. As long as I’m prepared for that, I think it will be fine. For me and Shayne Ward who’s also joining, we are probably going to be under a lot of criticism and scrutiny. It’s one of the nation’s biggest soaps, so there are going to be people who go, ‘Oh, she can’t act!’

“But I’m looking on the positive side. I’ve done something I really loved doing and I’ve met some really lovely people. Northerners are so friendly. Everyone on the cast has been so lovely. I would have loved to have had a scene with Beverly Callard who plays Liz or Alison King who plays Carla but I’m just happy that Corrie happened.”

Are you doing anything special for when your first episode airs?
“I am my own worst enemy when it comes to watching myself back. I was even scared about what they were going to show on MasterChef! I’m my own worst critic, I’m the same with the music. I’ll probably watch it with my mum!”
Did you know Shayne Ward before joining Corrie?
“We both auditioned for Popstars: The Rivals. He was only 16 at the time and his sister Lisa chaperoned him. So we all got the train down from Stockport and had seats together to go to the London auditions. We all got to know each other and I made really good friends with his sister Lisa. She was more my age. Shayne was only a bubba, bless him!

“But then he made his comeback on The X Factor. I’m really proud of Shayne. He’s really grown into a dashing young man! I think he’ll fit in really well with the Corrie set. He was in War Of The Worlds last year and is a great little actor and is a proper Northerner! He’s a real Manc.”

How’s everything going outside of work?
“I live outside of London these days in Buckinghamshire. It feels like I’ve got five children as I’ve got five animals. I’ve got three French bulldogs and two Persian cats. That is harder than children! Trying to keep on top of a house with that many animals and keeping your clothes clean and hair-free is impossible!

“I live the country life now. I’ve got a vegetable patch and everything. I’ve been planting beetroots. I’m definitely more content. I’m far removed from London these days. I’m out of the loop on a lot of things and having to get my head round social media a lot more. I really notice the noise when I’m in a busy place. I’m so used to the peace at night now – the sound of owls. I’m like an old woman!”

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