Great Britain

Sarah Harding was a total stranger to me but my tears for her are important – not silly

WHEN I heard that Girls Aloud star Sarah Harding had died, I cried.

I could blame this on a multitude of reasons – lack of sleep, hormones, it being a Monday morning – but it wasn’t any of those things.

I felt inexplicably sad, even though I’d never met her, have no connection to her, haven’t even seen Girls Aloud in concert (although watching the sultry video for Sound Of The Underground as a teenager made a big impression on me). 

I felt a bit silly about my waterworks, but it wasn’t a new feeling. I’d sobbed over Amy Winehouse, felt deeply shocked about Caroline Flack, and was bruised by the deaths of Brittany Murphy, Jade Goody, Prince, David Bowie… the list goes on.

All of these people were total strangers to me, and yet I felt a real grief when I heard of their passing. In some cases, I pored over news reports for more details of what had happened or texted my friends to hear how they felt.

Sometimes I wondered what the famous person’s loved ones were going through. Often I’d project myself into the story in some remote way. She was only a few years older than me! She was the soundtrack to my uni days! I think I saw her once in Tesco! And so on.

In many instances, it’s simply the shock of it, the sense of someone being taken way too soon – in Sarah Harding’s case, just 39 and dying from breast cancer.

Kate Wills

In many instances, it’s simply the shock of it, the sense of someone being taken way too soon – in Sarah Harding’s case, just 39 and dying from breast cancer. But it must be more than that. Is it because they are famous? And we think that a life of great beauty and stadium tours must somehow make them immortal?

Obviously the biggest outpouring of emotion for someone we had only seen pictures of was Princess Diana. Hearing about her death is a flashbulb memory for me.

I am instantly transported back to that August morning in 1997, waking up in my childhood bed, overhearing my mum and sister in the bathroom talking about it.

I remember my small mind whirring over who in our family must have died to provoke this reaction from them. I recall watching news footage of the mounds of flowers, feeling an urge to join crowds of red-eyed mourners. 

Prince Harry has spoken about how angry it made him to watch the world grieve his mother. She may have been “The People’s Princess” but I’m not surprised he thought: “This is my mum. You never even met her.” It made me question whether it’s even appropriate for us to mourn famous people, especially if that impinges on the private grief of those who really loved and knew them. 

Now, when a celebrity dies, we see collective grieving play out on social media. A rush of RIP tweets, people posting their (often tangible) connection to the star. When a famous person’s death makes us feel sad, it’s often because they meant something, however small, to us.

Whether your way of dealing with it is a tweet, a bunch of flowers or just your thoughts, I reckon it’s important – not silly – to just lean in and feel it. RIP Sarah

Kate Wills

And there’s something beautiful about that. Maybe celebrity deaths teach us how to process grief on this removed from-the-sidelines level, so that when someone who is close to us dies, we’ve had some practice.

We are so terrible at talking about death in this country, so maybe public grief for celebrities is the closest we can get to it. So whether your way of dealing with it is a tweet, a bunch of flowers or just your thoughts, I reckon it’s important – not silly – to just lean in and feel it. RIP Sarah. 

● Follow Kate on Instagram @katewillswrites.

This week I’m...

Watching… Only Murders In The Building. Selena Gomez’s Disney+ hit about crime-obsessed neighbs is binge-worthy.

Loving… By Rotation. I rented a The Vampire’s Wife dress for a wedding for a fraction of the cost of the real thing – and got tons of compliments! 

Sipping… Twelve Below. The low-sugar tonics and sparkling drinks are a great switch for booze (or mixer for your G&T).

Holly Willoughby's touching tribute to Sarah Harding after breast cancer death

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