GIRLS Aloud secretly agreed plans for a 20th anniversary reunion weeks before Sarah Harding’s breast cancer diagnosis.
The group, including Cheryl Tweedy, accepted a money-spinning deal for a series of shows and TV performances.
With discussions for a new album in 2021 and several UK tour dates, heartbroken Sarah had been desperate to join proposed rehearsals at the end of this year.
While all the girls — Kimberley Walsh, Nadine Coyle, Nicola Roberts and Cheryl — are rallying around her, the comeback plans are now on hold.
A source last night said: “The gang started early discussions at the beginning of last year.
“It was all very cloak and dagger, but everyone was hugely excited to announce the comeback later this year.
“Poor Sarah was desperate to make this happen, so her diagnosis has been doubly devastating.
“At the moment, all anyone cares about is that she gets the treatment she needs — the music comes second.
“But for the first time in years, all five girls are back in regular contact — even if under the most heartbreaking of circumstances.”
News of their reunion, which would have netted each of the girls an estimated £4million, comes only three days after Sarah, 38, announced publicly that she is battling breast cancer.
It is understood talks began before her diagnosis.
Sarah wrote on Instagram last week: “Earlier this year I was diagnosed with breast cancer and a couple of weeks ago I received the devastating news that the cancer has advanced to other parts of my body.
“I’m currently undergoing weekly chemotherapy sessions and I am fighting as hard as I possibly can.”
The singer, who won Celebrity Big Brother in 2017, also shared a photo of herself in hospital. She thanked NHS staff and her inner circle for their support, insisting she was “trying to keep positive”.
A friend said yesterday: “Sarah has been overwhelmed with all the support she has received, from both friends and fans.
“She is trying to stay as strong mentally and physically as possible, and is fighting so hard. Her mum has been her rock, and together they are getting through this day by day.
“By speaking out the way she has, Sarah has proven herself a total inspiration — by raising awareness of younger women getting breast cancer, she may well have saved thousands of lives. That alone is proving some comfort.”
Girls Aloud sprang to fame in 2002 after winning ITV reality show Popstars: The Rivals.
With 21 top ten hits, the Brit Award-winning quintet, previously managed by Louis Walsh, announced their split in 2013.
The group was plagued by tensions and in-fighting which prompted a hiatus in 2009, before their decision to pursue solo careers four years later.
Northern Irish singer Nadine, 35, fell out spectacularly with Geordie Cheryl, 37. Kimberley, 38, also had a reported spat with Nadine.
Sarah, dubbed “Hardcore Harding” over her love of partying, checked into rehab in Cape Town in 2011 for addiction to booze and sleeping pills.
After the band split, Nadine went on to claim she had been left out of the group’s decision to part ways — prompting Cheryl to declare she was “full of s***”.
Nadine also previously discussed the rift between the five, saying: “It was fine at the start but there’s always politics in any band.
“It just happened that I always got more vocals than everybody else, so in terms of people wanting their voice heard, that wasn’t happening.
“It made people very bitter. They didn’t like that.
“It’s so sad for me to have to admit this stuff now because for so long, there’s the band, and you want everybody to think we’re best friends and we have pillow fights and, you know, drink milkshakes.
“I really, really wanted that to be, but it just wasn’t how it was. So, yeah, there was a divide. We are very, very different characters.”
While the gang had previously been approached about a comeback, former X Factor judge Cheryl had always refused.
After leaving Girls Aloud, she became one of Britain’s biggest pop stars.
With that successful solo career under her belt and worth an estimated £18million, she was in a position to turn down offers of a reunion — making this latest development all the more poignant.
A source added: “For the first time, Cheryl felt the time was right for a bit of nostalgia. The girls were stunned, but delighted, she was on board.”
After Sarah’s shock announcement, the girls — who had all been told earlier — shared their support.
Cheryl responded by posting a broken heart emoji on Twitter, while Nadine told Sarah on Instagram: “I love you! You have always been able to achieve miracles when needed!”
Kimberley added: “My heart is broken. You are so strong and brave and we are with you every step of the way.”
And Nicola, 34, told Sarah she is “so loved and supported”.
on on or EMAIL [email protected]