Drag performer Cherry Valentine, who appeared on the second series of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK, has died aged 28.
The drag queen – real name George Ward – died on Sunday (18 September), confirmed in a statement from their family.
“It is with the most heart-wrenching and deepest sadness to inform you that our George – Cherry Valentine – has tragically passed away,” the statement read (via Metro).
“This will come as a profound shock to most people and we understand there is no easy way for this to be announced.”
It continued: “We understand how much he is loved and how many lives he has inspired and touched. All we ask is for your patience and your prayers in this time. We love you Georgie.”
The performer grew up in Darlington as part of the traveller community, qualifying as a mental health nurse in 2015 before starting their drag career. They were the second competitor to be eliminated from the second series of Drag Race UK, which aired in January 2021.
Ward previously spoke to Metro about their decision to return to nursing when production for series two of Drag Race UK was put on hold due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I can’t just sit at home, I need to be doing something,” they said. “I ended up going back into [nursing], working in neuro for a bit for a couple of months. It was high intensity neuro for adults, so it was [treating patients with] brain damage and brain injuries.”
“It was a weird crossover because I’m obviously mental health-trained. During the pandemic, it was very physical health-focused, so it was dealing with Covid, which was a bit of a shock. I did that until we went back filming again.”
Earlier this year, Ward also spoke to Manchester Evening News about growing up gay in the gypsy Roma community.
“I was always brought up on old-fashioned, stereotypical views of what a man or woman should be or should do,” they said.
“I had to identify as your typical man growing up and that meant following the society rules and expectations of being masculine. There wasn’t ever any wiggle room.”
Cherry continued: “Especially in the LGBTQ+ community, you can feel so alone at times and often feel like you’re the only gay person in the world.
“I had some really dark times. I’ve felt suicidal and felt like it was the only way out.”
The performer went on to front their own BBC Three documentary called Gypsy Queen And Proud, in which they explored their roots in the community they left at 18-years-old.