Drag performer George Ward, known by his stage name Cherry Valentine, has died at the age of 28, his family have announced.
Ward appeared on the second series of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK and went on to front the BBC documentary Gypsy Queen And Proud.
A statement from his family described his death as a “profound shock”. Ward, who died on Sunday, was raised in Darlington, County Durham, as part of the Traveller community.
He qualified as a mental health nurse in 2015 before starting his career in drag.
“It is with the most heart-wrenching and deepest sadness to inform you that our George – Cherry Valentine – has tragically passed away,” Ward’s family said.
“This will be a profound shock to most people, and we understand there is no easy way to announce this.”
“As his family, we are still processing his death, and our lives will never be the same,” they added.
“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 at this time. We love you, Georgie.”
In December 2020, Ward was announced as one of 12 contestants competing in the second series of the UK version of RuPaul’s Drag Race, broadcast on BBC Three.
In his introductory video for the show, he described his Cherry Valentine alter-ego as “glamour”, “dark”, and “gothic”. He said his work as a nurse had “put me in that right position to be able to understand people a bit more”.
“If you are a drag queen, you are working with people. And to understand people, I think you go the extra mile.”
Being interviewed for the launch of Drag Race UK in January 2021, Ward explained he was introduced to the drag scene while a student at Lancaster University.
“I went to Manchester for a couple of nights and thought: ‘This is crazy; this is what I want to do.’ That’s when Cherry was born,” he said.
“I did drag in Darlington behind the scenes. It was a case of doing it when your parents are out of the house and dressing up in your mother’s clothes, strutting round the house in nails.”
He said about participating in the show: “I just wanted to go on and show wherever you come from, whoever you are, you can do whatever makes you happy.”
Fans of the show also posted social media tributes to Ward on Friday following the news of his death.
Singer Jack Remmington described Ward as “a brilliant drag performer who did so much for this world both as a nurse and as representation for the gipsy community”.
“In such sad shock at the news of Cherry Valentine,” added writer and journalist Harrison Brocklehurst. “What an incredible queen.”
Journalist Emma Kelly said Ward’s death was “horribly tragic”, while Ben Smoke described it as “a horrifying loss”.