Breaking the bank for a chance to see their heroes: the diehard fans who keep following Girls Aloud
A heady cocktail of pop, glamour and adoration gripped Belfast last night for the long-awaited return of Girls Aloud.
Devoted fans queued in their hundreds outside the Odyssey Arena as the girls rolled in to town for the first of two dates in the city.
It's been three years since Girls Aloud – Londonderry's Nadine Coyle, Cheryl Cole, Kimberley Walsh, Nicola Roberts and Sarah Harding – performed in Northern Ireland.
And the excitement among their die-hard fans was palpable as the doors opened for the Belfast leg of the tour to mark their decade in business.
'Aloud and Proud' read one sign pinned to a crash barrier at the Arena's entrance.
Sarah McDowell was among those queuing to see the chart-toppers.
Holding on to the placard, she listed off the destinations she has travelled to to see the five-piece.
"Manchester, Newcastle, London, Glasgow, Birmingham, Sheffield, Liverpool, Nottingham, Dublin," she said, ticking off each with her friends.
The 20-year-old from Banbridge is one of seven Girls Aloud fans from across the UK who first met each other at a book-signing of one of the band's members in London in 2010. They have stayed in contact ever since through Twitter.
"Since 2002 we have spent tens of thousands of pounds going to their concerts," Melissa Chedwick (19), another member of the group from Leeds, said.
"We have broken the bank – and our student loans – going to see them."
Speculation that this could be the last tour for the five stars, who have all pursued their own interests in recent years, was instantly put to bed by the group.
"They have been our heroes since we were 10," Sarah said.
"We don't think this is the last tour."
The Something New starlets have re-united for the 12-date tour, which will travel on to The O2 in Dublin on Saturday.
Megan O'Kane (21), a student from Bangor, remembers voting for the five unknowns on Popstar: the Rivals, the reality TV show which saw them catapulted to fame a decade ago.
"I love everything about them – their music, their attitudes," she said.
"They are all doing really well but they have all got a really good, down-to-earth attitude. It's proof that if you work hard enough you can make it.
"I have been to see them 10 or 12 times. It does cost but I would not spend the money on anything else."
Trade in Girls Aloud cupcakes was brisk at the Odyssey Arena's Streat Cafe.
However, it hadn't reached the fever pitch reached last week when the cafe's One Direction cupcakes were selling in batches of 100 every evening.
But trade was steady by teatime yesterday evening, well before the venue's doors were due to open.
"We've sold about 20 today already," Ciara Boyd, the cafe's manager and creator of the chocolate-chip cupcakes, each topped with a picture of one of the five stars.
Outside, there was little doubt about the crowd's collective favourite of the band.
Amid a scattering of 'welcome home Nadine' posters for the Derry singer, fans, male and female, professed their adoration of Cheryl Cole.
"Why am I here? Cheryl Cole, absolutely," Gerard Forgiona from north Belfast said.
"It's Cheryl Cole – the hair, those adverts for L'Oreal," Caolan Kearns from Newry agreed.
He added: "It's just the glamour."