Kimberley Walsh says Girls Aloud tour will be celebration of bandmate Sarah Harding who lost her battle with breast cancer in 2021.

Girls Aloud are back on tour and coming to Leeds for the first time. Kimberley Walsh talks to Catherine Scott about hitting the road without Sarah Harding and how it will be a celebration of her life.

When Kimberley Walsh takes to the stage next week at the start of the first Girls Aloud tour in ten years, she will have mixed emotions. It will be the first time the group has appeared without band member Sarah Harding, who died of breast cancer in 2021.

“Ultimately it will be a celebration of Sarah’s lilfe but it is going to be hard,” says Bradford-born Kimberley.

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Girls Aloud was created through the ITV talent show Popstars: The Rivals in 2002 and by 2012 the group was named as the UK's biggest selling girl group of the 21st century, with more than 4.3 million singles sales and four million albums sold in the UK alone. The band went on hiatus in 2013 so the members could pursue solo careers. There had been talk of a reunion tour to mark two decades since they were formed. “Initially the idea was to plan to do something for our 20 years together,” says Kimberley, but when Sarah fell ill with breast cancer in 2020 which quickly became terminal, the girls realised that wasn’t going to be possible. "We focused on Sarah and just being there for her. It wasn’t something in any of our minds. But chatting to Sarah, even towards the late part of her diagnosis before she passed away, she was very clear that was something she thought we should still do. But it was just way too painful at the time for us to even consider it.”

Kimberley Walsh (Photo by Dominic Lipinski/Getty Images for Disney)Kimberley Walsh (Photo by Dominic Lipinski/Getty Images for Disney)
Kimberley Walsh (Photo by Dominic Lipinski/Getty Images for Disney)

Sarah died aged 39 in September 2021 and now the remaining members of Girls Aloud, Kimberley, Cheryl Tweedy, Nadine Coyle and Nicola Roberts feel the time is right to go back on tour and pay tribute their missing band member. "Something just seem to shift in all of us,” says Kimberley who is also a presenter on BBC One Morning Live. "We realised if we were ever going to do something together where we can celebrate Sarah it kind of has to be now. I never really thought we would get to a point where we’d feel that at the same time but because it did. It was almost like a sign that it was something we should do.”

Once they announced it was happening, she said they were overwhelmed by the reaction. "It made us realise it was the right thing to do.” They chatted with Sarah’s mum to get an idea of how she would like it to be. "We’ve collaboratively got to a place where we are all happy that it celebrates her (Sarah), makes her part of the show. Her mum wants it to be celebration in an uplifting way. For us it feels like she is still very much a part of the show – we are not trying to be Girls Aloud without her. Of course she’s not with us but she is still a huge part of who we are.

“It’s hard but it is also a really healing process and its really nice being able to have that communication with her mum. Sarah would want to be celebrated – we know her so so well and this is something that she would want and we want to make sure we do her justice in that respect too." Kimberley says that Sarah’s decision to go public about her breast cancer diagnosis has meant other women were encouraged to get checked out. “The one positive thing that all her friends and family get out if what happened is that so many women’s lives have been saved through Sarah. I think she knew it could have a positive impact which is why we decided to shift from the 20 anniversary event to the breast cancer event and the fundraising we did for her which was really nice. It gave us something to focus on with her while she was still with us and then we knew what our job was – we knew what we had to do the year after, we raised so much money and we achieved all the things she asked for us to do so that was amazing.” The Sarah Harding Breast Cancer Appeal and support from Sarah’s Girls Aloud bandmates, family and friends, meant an innovative study has been made possible. BCAN-RAY (Breast Cancer Risk Assessment in Young Women) at the Christie Hospital in Manchester where Sarah was treated, has been set up following Sarah’s dying wish to find new ways to spot the signs of the disease earlier and stop it cutting lives like hers short. "We’ve had so many message from young women and even older women and friends who were like ‘I only went and had my check up because of Sarah’ because it was so shocking. They realised you can’t leave these things you have to go and get checked.”

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Getting a date in the diary for the tour, ( which kicks off in Dublin on May 17 and comes to Sheffield Utilita Arena on May 28 and Leeds First Direct Arena on June 15 and 16) was no easy feat as the remaining members of the band have busy solo careers and families – but they were all determined to make it happen. "Timing is everything,” says Kimberley. “It seemed a time when everyone could make it happen. I’ve taken time away from Morning Live and Wickes, I’ve cleared my schedule to focus on this. It’s really nice as all the girls have done the same and seem in the same head space. They just want it to be a big celebration and be the most fun ever without the added pressure we used to have.”

Sarah Harding, Nadine Coyle, Nicola Roberts, Cheryl Cole and Kimberley Walsh of Girls Aloud in  December 2012. Sarah Harding sadly died of breast cancer in 2021 (Photo by Fred Duval/Getty Images)Sarah Harding, Nadine Coyle, Nicola Roberts, Cheryl Cole and Kimberley Walsh of Girls Aloud in  December 2012. Sarah Harding sadly died of breast cancer in 2021 (Photo by Fred Duval/Getty Images)
Sarah Harding, Nadine Coyle, Nicola Roberts, Cheryl Cole and Kimberley Walsh of Girls Aloud in December 2012. Sarah Harding sadly died of breast cancer in 2021 (Photo by Fred Duval/Getty Images)

Having had 20 plus top ten singles the set list pretty much chose itself, Kimberley says but there will be a few surprises. "We are so lucky that we have such an amazing catalogue of songs to perform. I haven’t listened to any of the music for so long, going back over it makes me appreciate the songs we have and how they’ve aged very well. They will be brilliant to perform as most of them are so uplifting and so fun.” It will be the first concert that mum of three Kimberley’s children will have attended and she expected the audience to reflect that.

“I think it will be lot of 40 year old women the same age as me and I’d imagine they will bring their kids. If you feel nostalgic about and band and they come back you want to show your kids who you loved in your 20s. We are and always have been about putting on a massive show. I feel like its going to be really lovely audience, lots of women like ourselves just wanting to go and have a good night out and have a bit of fun and a dance. We will be doing that together which feels really special.”

She says one of the hardest things about going back on tour is the logistics of having three children. Her youngest is just about to turn three and her other two are seven and nine. “Normally in the old days we’d be on the bus with the dancers having a few drinks. Now the dancers have their own bus and we have our own separate family bus. Cheryl and Nadine are both really excited about them being part of it as well, its another big reason for us doing it. They haven’t seen that side of us at all, they really didn’t have any idea what Girls Aloud was until people started talking about it and now they are slightly more interested. It will be quite a mind blowing thing for them.” She is particularly excited about the Leeds shows as Girls Aloud never played Leeds as there was no arena back then. "It’s the nearest I’m going to get to playing to home,” she says. “ I never had the moment the other girls had of playing in front of a home audience. I had to claim Sheffield where I did get an amazing response but I’m looking forward to seeing what Leeds will be like. It’s home turf for me and I will have lots of school friends and family there.”