DEMANDING, HIGH-MAINTENANCE WITH A SPLIT PERSONALITY – WELCOME TO THE MAD WORLD OF SARAH HARDING. ENTER AT YOUR OWN PERIL…
Over in our fantasy world, Girls Aloud are our best friends, and Sarah Harding is the one we turn to for a party.
She's the peroxide blonde, whippet-thin firecracker who's always ready to hit the clubs. She sorts the guest list, orders the sambucas, and gets the chips and curry sauce in while we snog an unsuitable boy outside.
We can assume all of this because we feel we know her. But just five minutes in her company proves that there are many sides to Miss ‘Party' Harding. If you think she's just a good-time girl, you'd better wake up and smell the apple crumble (which she makes, by the way).
As we settle down on a battered leather sofa, before her transformation into a hard-edged va-va-vamp, Sarah's thinking about what best sums her up.
We've been through country girl, rock 'n' roller, broody, ambitious, high-maintenance and completely unpredictable. Then she triumphantly yells: "It's two words: completely crazy! I've got a split personality. And I can be hard to be around sometimes.
"My personality is very extreme and it's taken quite a few years for the other girls in the band to finally work me out."
Sarah, 27, was once written off as just another party girl after she became a regular fixture in London nightclubs and had ill-fated relationships with infamous Lotharios Calum Best and Steve Jones. But she's now happily settled down with DJ Tom Crane, 28.
"My problem is that I always pick bad boys, or at least I did until I met Tom," she says.
"In the past I've had some pretty awful relationships and I'm the one who always gets dumped. I'm very high-maintenance emotionally and guys just get fed up with me. That does get to me and it's part of the reason why, when a relationship ends, I party like mad."
Just weeks after her split from showbiz columnist Joe Mott in May 2007, Sarah met and fell for Tom, a DJ at London club Mahiki and a friend of Princes William and Harry. But while Sarah and Tom may have met on the party circuit, they've sealed their love in a very conventional way – by buying a run-down cottage in the Buckinghamshire countryside.
A smile spreads across Sarah's face when she talks about Tom and the nesting that's occupying all her thoughts.
"He gets me completely," she says. "We've had this incredibly difficult situation of living together for months in a bomb site of a house that's being built around us.
"We've had massive rows and nearly split up, but we've got through it, which just shows we've actually really got something. I'm so happy."
Settling down clearly suits Sarah, but for now getting to grips with rural life is her priority.
"It's insane, isn't it?" she says. "There's one side of me that loves to party, then there's this other side that just craves peace and quiet and to be surrounded by nature.
"In my new place I have this amazing Aga, and last weekend I picked apples off my tree and made my own apple crumble. It was gorgeous."
The fact she is scoffing crumble will be a relief to those who recently feared for her health as her weight plummeted during last year's Girls Aloud tour.
"I've put on a dress size," she says. "I did get very thin, but it wasn't because I wasn't eating. It was because we were dancing non-stop for months. I don't want to be super-thin. I like my curves and I'm very happy to have them back."
Career-wise, 2008 will count as a golden year for Sarah and the rest of Girls Aloud: Nadine Coyle, 23, Nicola Roberts, 23, Cheryl Cole, 25 and Kimberley Walsh, 27. For many observers it was the year they finally became cool – so cool, in fact, they'll even be supporting Coldplay at Wembley in September.
Their tour rocked and both albums – Tangled Up and Out Of Control – topped the charts. And with the help of stylist Victoria Adcock, the girls emerged as fashion icons. By any measure, they've come a long way since winning Popstars: The Rivals back in 2002.
"We've all been through terrible ups and downs," she says. "In the early days of the band I was a complete wreck. I pretty much went through a nervous breakdown because I felt like no one understood me and I didn't deserve to be in the group.
"All I ever wanted to do was be a singer. I was terrible at school. I had attention deficit disorder and was one of those totally hyper kids who wasn't allowed sweets because I'd lose the plot.
"But singing was my dream and when it came true, I couldn't cope. It was hard. I used to spend half my time laughing hysterically, pretending everything was fine, and the other half crying."
Now Sarah and the girls have grown in confidence.
"We've all had our fights," she says. "But when things get tough we've learnt to stick together. If anyone slags any of us off, we're all in there to defend each other."
Sarah points out that they rallied round Cheryl following reports last year that her husband Ashley cheated on her. "She's had a tough time," she says. "But now everyone loves her."
And she bursts out laughing at the mention of Simon Cowell's obsession with her mate. "I was outside an awards show with him and Snow Patrol having a fag," she whispers. "He kept telling me how him and Cheryl had a special ‘spark'. I think that's what he calls it anyway."
But Sarah adds: "Cheryl is definitely settled with Ashley. Kids are the next thing for her, which is amazing."
Although Sarah admits she wants three children, she's not planning on starting a family soon. Not while there are still a few guest lists with her name down on them, anyway.
"At the minute Nicola is trying to pinch my crown as the party animal," she laughs. "I have to say once that girl has a few drinks inside her, she's totally mental. If I want a proper night out, Nicola is always my partner in crime. No one's safe."
Perhaps Sarah won't be hanging up her party shoes yet…
The feisty five
1. What's your worst quality?
I am incredibly loud and I pick my nose.
2. You learnt how to tango in Argentina. Who would be your ideal partner and why?
I have to say Brad Pitt. Have you seen him in Fight Club? He's gorgeous.
3. Has your mouth ever got you into trouble?
Boy George once slated us as "Just a bunch of pretty girls," so when I bumped into him in Moscow, I went up to him and started screaming and shouting. I was p***ed and it was pretty embarrassing.
4. Which of the Girls Aloud ladies would you like to life swap with?
They're all great, but I'm happy being me.
5. Who would you shag, marry and shoot between Lindsay Lohan, Louis Walsh and Calum Best?
I'm not answering that. I love Calum. Even though it didn't work out, he was very sweet to me.
Thanks for all the pics! There is so much dog hair on that black blazer, haha!
She looks so annoyed and tired.