The performer, who was known as George Ward out of drag, died on Sunday, their family confirmed in a statement, with people including RuPaul, Bimini and Cheryl Hole sharing tributes expressing their heartbreak.
As well as winning over viewers on Drag Race UK, having competed in the 2021 season, fans have been remembering Ward’s work as a mental health nurse, having also helped administer the Covid-19 vaccine during the pandemic.
The late drag artist from Darlington also fronted a BBC documentary called Gypsy Queen And Proud, delving into their upbringing and what it was like for them to grow up LGBT in the Traveler community.
Before the launch of Drag Race UK series two, Ward spoke to Metro.co.uk about their desire to help with the rollout of the Covid-19 jab, having had to wait for production on the series to resume following a hiatus.
‘I can’t just sit at home, I need to be doing something,’ they thought at the time.
‘I ended up going back in [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.
‘I was doing a lot of Covid work as well because I was with a nursing agency, so I was going to A&Es and doing house calls and stuff.’
Ward remembered it feeling like a ‘weird crossover’, having trained as a mental health nurse.
‘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,’ they said.
After their elimination from the competition, they shared that they had began their work at the vaccine centre, saying: ‘I’ve just started a new job at one of the vaccination centers near me, trying to speed that up a bit, an extra pair of hands and all that. I just want to get back to some form of normality.’
Ward’s BBC documentary, Gypsy Queen and Proud, first aired in January 2022, follows the drag performer’s journey having been rejected by their community after coming out as gay.
In a promo video released for the film, Ward admitted that it felt ‘exhausting’ having two lives, one with their family and another with their friends.
Explaining how the community they grew up in was ‘very binary’ in terms of men and women, Ward said that they didn’t feel like they ever ‘fitted in properly’.
‘I just wanted to talk about something that I hadn’t really seen being talked about before. If I was younger and saw something like that I maybe would’ve helped me feel a little bit differently about it,’ they said about the programme.
When Ward watched the documentary for the first time, they admitted that it made them feel ‘uncomfortable’ because it was ‘so personal’.
‘Is this going to change the community for LGBT Travellers? Well I hope so, but I actually don’t know. I don’t know if minds will change. I really hope they do,’ they stated.
‘I’m ready now to start having those conversations with my family and I think the only thing that could do is bring us closer together.’
Following the news of Ward’s death, several fans paid tribute to the vital work they did both as a nurse working for the NHS and opening up about their experience within the Traveler community.
‘Not only were you an incredible drag queen on #DragRaceUK, you were a frontline nurse in the NHS who helped save so many lives!’ one person tweeted.
‘I know the documentary you did, about growing up gay within the traveler community, will have helped so many people!!’
‘A proud traveller. A strong mental health nurse. A queen. Cherry Valentine,’ someone else said.
Another fan wrote: ‘Cherry Valentine was so brilliant and I was so sad to see her go home so early on in her series of Drag Race UK. What an amazing queen, an Irish Traveller, a mental health nurse/pandemic nurse, a kind soul. May her memory be a blessing.’
‘Unbelievably sad news! What an inspiring person the documentary was incredible. I cried as I watched and listened and I have cried today at the news of this bright life lost. My heart goes out to all George’s friends and family. He will always be Cherry Valentine to me,’ someone else penned.
A fundraising page has been set up on GoFundMe to raise money for a vigil in Ward’s hour, which now has a target of £10,000.
TOMORROW : RuPaul pays tribute to ‘bright star and lovely person’ after Drag Race UK star Cherry Valentine dies aged 28
TOMORROW: RuPaul’s Drag Race UK star George Ward, known as Cherry Valentine, dies aged 28