Girls Aloud at AO Arena, Manchester – a glittering, nostalgic tribute to Sarah Harding

The Girls Aloud Show delivered.

Daisy Jackson Daisy Jackson - 24th May 2024

It’s been a decade since Girls Aloud went on a hiatus that seemed like it may never end, but end it has, and The Girls Aloud Show has touched down for three nights in Manchester.

A lot has happened since the girl band formed on Popstars: The Rivals way back in 2002, including the tragic death of band member Sarah Harding at just 39 years old.

Girls Aloud promised that this huge arena anniversary tour would honour their late bandmate, and if Sarah was into 10/10, near-flawless pop concerts, they’ve done her justice.

It’s plainly obvious that hours and hours of rehearsal have gone into The Girls Aloud Show. They don’t put a foot wrong in the AO Arena, even if those silly inflatable red dresses played up again.

Even when a song falls a little flat, their performance sails on the wings of the choreography (their all-male troupe of dancers are phenomenal) and the production, and minor imperfections are quickly glossed over by the rest of the girls’ glorious pop catalogue.


‘Now look over here! Look at the shiny costumes and the harmonies here!’ they seem to say whenever the audience gets fidgety, quickly moving onto another chart-topping banger.

There are a lot to get through – the gig is split into four acts, with a setlist that includes Love Machine, Biology, Something Kinda Ooooh, and Jump, and costumes that range from skin-tight glittering bodysuits to full-length gowns that may have been pinched straight out of The Supremes’ wardrobes.


The second act, which harks back to their slightly more urban debut album, is a personal highlight. I’ve long maintained that Sound of the Underground is one of the greatest pop songs ever written – but chuck in four scantily clad pop starlets riding airborne motorbikes and it just gets even better.

Did I walk in thinking I knew all the words to every Girls Aloud song ever released? No I did not, but these catchy little bops are apparently neatly filed in my brain ready to come tumbling out with a single wink from Cheryl Cole.

I know everyone has a favourite girlband member, and on stage each one plays to their own persona, whether that’s the impeccably graceful Nicola or the effortlessly cool Kimberly.


And while on paper Cheryl is the most successful of the lot, this is now 2024 and I think we can all agree that Nadine Coyle is CARRYING this tour. She is an actress. She oozes charisma and camp, beaming the whole time, and looks like she is having the time of her life. It’s totally infectious and the crowd laps her up.

Sarah Harding is incorporated into the Girls Aloud tour throughout the show. Credit: The Manc Group
Sarah Harding is incorporated into the Girls Aloud tour throughout the show. Credit: The Manc Group

Of course, it’s a bittersweet celebration without Sarah. She is woven into the fabric of this band and into their live tour too. As hits like Can’t Speak French and Something New play, the original music videos play behind them. And with songs like A Whole Lotta History and I’ll Stand By You, her vocals take the lead along with a moving montage of the young late star, to rapturous applause.

If you’re surprised that Girls Aloud sold out this many arenas in this day and age, you are grossly underestimating the hold they had over British women in the noughties. We all used to buy false eyelashes modelled on their eyes, for god’s sake (personally, a big fan of Kimberley’s), and washed our hair with shampoos with their faces on the bottles.

21 years later and this is proven to be timeless pop music, and the styling of several acts of the show reflects that. Parts feel like they’re from a different era, from the tiny feather bustle stuck to Nadine’s sparkling bodysuit to the dancers in top hats and tails.

And things never feel more ageless than with The Promise, which closes the show.


Some of us may remember the music video, where all five Girls Aloud members time-travelled back to the 1960s, their makeup taking some influence from Twiggy and their hair growing exponentially larger (this was surely about the same time that Cheryl got her L’Oréal contract). The essence of that has been brought to their live show.

They shimmy behind microphone stands and perform choreography with their arms in sparkling gowns.

And then comes the real tear-jerker – this song was always Sarah Harding’s to own, and no one could quite fill those shoes. So instead of replacing her verse, she remains the star.

Sarah’s face beams across the arena, and her original vocals bellow over a tearful crowd, while the other girls turn to watch their late friend shine once again.

The night wraps up in an explosion of colour and sparkle. A properly fitting way to honour Sarah.


Girls Aloud have two more shows in Manchester at the AO Arena to come – read our full gig guide here.

Girls Aloud setlist

Act I
The Show
Something New
Love Machine
Can’t Speak French
Whole Lotta History
Act II
Wake Me Up
Sound of the Underground
Girl Overboard
No Good Advice
Graffiti My Soul
Long Hot Summer
I’ll Stand by You (Pretenders cover)
Sexy! No No No…
On the Metro
Jump (For My Love)
Call the Shots
Something Kinda Ooooh
The Promise

Featured image: The Manc Group