Cherry Valentine: Who was the Gypsy Queen, how did George Ward find fame, and what's been said about his death?

Tributes have been paid to the NHS worker and drag artist who made a critically-acclaimed documentary about his life.

The family of George Ward – better known as dra g queen Cherry Valentine – have announced that the star tragically died on Sunday, September 23, at the age of 28.

He qualified as a mental health nurse in 2015 and worked in the NHS, including helping out with the UK’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout.

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Here’s what we know about the groundbreaking performer,

How did Cherry Valentine become famous?

George Ward started performing as drag queen Cherry Valentine in 2018 and in December 2020 it was revealed he would be one of the 12 contestants competing on the second series of the hugely popular RuPaul's Drag Race UK.

Introducing himself he said that working as a nurse "has put me in that right position where I'm able to understand people a bit more, and if you're a drag queen, you're working with people. By understanding people, you're going the extra mile".

He was eliminated in the second episode after losing a lip sync challenge when he performed ‘Memory’ from the musical Cats.

Cherry Valentine has tragically died at the age of 28.

Cherry was set to tour the UK with the rest of the season two cast later this year.

What was Cherry Valentine’s background?

George Ward grew up in a Gypsy community in Darlington and credited the women in his life for inspiring him to become a perfomer.

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On Drag Race he spoke about his experiences, saying that he had to rebel against his upbringing where drag was not acceptable and attracted “hate or backlash”, explaining: "In the Traveller community, there's a lot of pressure on young people to marry, to settle down, to have a family and to get a job to support the family".

Talking to contestant Sister Sister, he said: "Growing up being gay did affect me. I don't think I was completely sane at all."

What was Cherry Valentine’s documentary about?

‘Cherry Valentine: Gypsy Queen and Proud’ was a documentary directed by Pete Grant and broadcast on BBC Three in 2022.

It tells the story of how George Ward left Darlington after coming out as gay and was rejected by the traveller community. In the film he returns home to examine whether it’s possible to be both a Gypsy and a drag artist.

Speaking to Attitude he said “[The documentary has] definitely made me more willing to have those conversations now, because I didn’t just move away from them, they moved away from me. It was sort of a mutual thing. I’ve talked to my mum about it and it’s certainly brought us closer: we talk now more than ever and that’s a mad thing for me, because we never had that sort of relationship beforehand. I would like to think that when the rest of the community and a lot of the family watch this, they’ll also want to talk.”

What has Cherry’s family said about his death?

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In a statement his family said: “It is with the most heart-wrenching and deepest sadness to inform you that our George – Cherry Valentine – has tragically passed away.

“This will come as a profound shock to most people and we understand there is no easy way for this to be announced.

“As his family, we are still processing his death and our lives will never be the same.”

How has the drag community reascted to his death?

Series one star Cheryl Hole tweeted: “I never thought I’d have to write something like this about such a talented and beautiful person that was Cherry.

Fellow series two star Ellie Diamond said on Instagram: “I am so sad to even begin thinking about posting this! Cherry brought so much life and laughs to whatever situation!

“Always someone who was caring and loving, her laugh lightened up a room like fireworks and will forever have a cherry red place in all our hearts! I love you my sister you will be missed!”

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Drag queen Glamrou said: “Winded by the devastating news about Cherry Valentine. I can’t believe it. A true queen. Rest in peace my dear.”

Fiona Campbell, controller of BBC Three, said: “We are all shocked and heartbroken to hear the news of the passing of George, known to many as Cherry Valentine. A fan favourite and an inspiration to so many, we were privileged to have worked with him at BBC Three.

“He will be hugely missed by his many fans and friends. Our deepest sympathies are with his family and friends at this difficult time.”

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