Sarah Harding: 'Maybe Girls Aloud will do another stint at some point'
Sarah Harding would prefer it if she kept her sunglasses on for pictures. It's 5pm, it's cloudy out and we're indoors, but hey - who are we to argue with a pop star? Besides, Harding's eye make-up is running, she tells us (hence, the shades). Later, she'll remove them for the actual interview bit (the make-up is fine). It must be all about the image.
We've got ten minutes with Harding (the final member of Girls Aloud to release solo material) to talk music, band life and solo plans, and ten minutes in which we're instructed (twice) to avoid personal questions and a story doing the rounds that Harding (an occasional actress) was recently 'axed' from Coronation Street after just four episodes. Just in case, a tall chap on his phone ('security' or management, presumably) sits in on the interview. It's a comfortable set-up, then.
"I'm a perfectionist," says Harding (33), as we get started on the music bit. "That's probably why it's taken so long for me to bring anything out. But, of course, I'm slightly nervous - I think I would be in the wrong business if I wasn't. It shows I care... I'd love to get Top Ten."
Sarah Harding interview with Chris Wasser
Indeed, but Sarah Harding is merely testing the water, releasing an EP (Threads) instead of an album this week. It's careful, it's cheaper and it's probably wiser (the artist simply known as Cheryl has, thus far, proven the only bankable Girls Aloud solo card). Harding calls herself "a musician's daughter". She's all about real music. She doesn't understand those that wish to be famous for the sake of it.
It's understandable, what with the Manchester-raised talent having auditioned for Girls Aloud at a time when reality show singing competitions actually focused on the singing (the band was formed on Popstars: The Rivals back in 2002).
And yet, Harding has been known to pick up the odd acting part along the way, from the St Trinian's movie series all the way through to a guest role on Corrie - which, by the way, was torn apart by viewers on Twitter, with several tabloids running with the aforementioned 'axed' story (truthfully, Harding was only ever contracted for a handful of appearances).
"Oh, I'm not really bothered what people say," says Harding when I bring it up. "At the end of the day, it was on my bucket list, just to be on there and do a cameo - so as long as I'm happy, fine by me. People are entitled to their opinions, but my music's my thing."
Did she enjoy her experience on Corrie? "Yeah, you know what? I enjoyed doing it, because it's my favourite soap."
And that's about all we're going to get out of her on that topic. Moving swiftly along, I ask if Harding ever wanted to be on the other side of the table when it comes to reality pop carnivals. After all, she gave Bressie a hand as a guest mentor on The Voice of Ireland last year.
"Again, that was another experience that I really enjoyed," recalls Harding, "and I like to dip my toes in and out of different things, just to keep it interesting. As much as I love doing music, it can get monotonous sometimes.
"That's why I think the band took three years out, because it was becoming very monotonous every year - it was just the same thing, it was like album, tour, break, then do all the Christmas stints, all the charity stints, then back in the studio, it was just becoming like 'Groundhog Year'. So, in a way, I thought it's better to just do little things on the side, like a bit of presenting, like MasterChef, like a bit of Corrie, and even the odd bit of DJing - it just keeps it kind of exciting for me, because I get easily bored."
A Girls Aloud reunion/farewell tour in 2012 brought the curtain down on a decade-long career for one of the biggest-selling British girl groups of all time.
"I miss it still," says Harding. "I still miss the girls. I think it was important that we took a break - we did the comeback, but who knows? Maybe we'll do another stint at some point. I'd like to think we will, because we have great chemistry on stage together, and it will be weird performing without them."
As for the so-called bitchiness and tension? Well, most of the time, the tabloids went out of their way to create something that wasn't true. "Girls are notorious for being bitchy, aren't they?" says Harding. "So people like to just attach that when they see a girl group, they think 'ooh, they must be bitchy with each other', but I just gotta laugh it off.
"Obviously, when you're living in each other's pockets...you're never gonna get along 24/7, so of course there were times when we'd get on each other's t*ts, but that was it."
Has she had any feedback from the other band members about her new single?
"Yeah, well Cheryl tweeted me the other day actually, going 'Oi, you didn't wait too long, did ya'? So yeah, I've been in contact with Cheryl and Kimberly...and I saw Nadine last year. It's been difficult to stay in touch, because we're all so busy."
Again, personal questions are off the table. Any mention of rehab, broken hearts and alcohol addiction (Harding had a tough time of it back in 2011) and it'll be off with our heads. It's a little weird, as Harding has always been open in the past.
Just last week, she told her 190,000 Twitter followers that she was single. In this very interview, she informs me that Girls Aloud were well liked by journos because they "were lairy" and "not media trained".
"Well, I'm just honest," she says, as we skirt the issue of living one's private life in the public eye.
"Honesty is the best policy, I think - there's no point trying to be fake, and that's one thing I never have been."
After 13 years in the biz, Harding says she's grown a thick skin. Music and song writing, she insists, is her therapy - and the next decade is open to everything.
"Whatever takes my fancy," she nods. "I'd like to think I could settle down and have a couple of kids and be a mummy and a good wife at some point, but right now... I'm just too busy for any of that."
Threads is out this Friday