Fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK season 2 and the drag community at large are mourning the loss of former contestant Cherry Valentine, who passed away on September 18 at the age of 28. The Darlington County native, whose real name is George Ward, made quite the impact on RuPaul’s Drag Race UK thanks to stunning looks, talent and an infectious laugh. Off-camera, Cherry was also making a positive impact as a healthcare worker and inspiration for others struggling to embrace their identity. News of Cherry’s death shocked both viewers and fellow queens, who took to social media to express their grief.
Cherry was part of the most unprecedented season in Drag Race history. Mid-way through, production was forced to shut down when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. After becoming a mental health nurse in 2015, Cherry understood firsthand the strain that the world’s frontline workers were under. In fact, Cherry eventually started working at a COVID-19 vaccination center. This queen was also vocal about her upbringing in a Gypsy community and the rejection she felt after coming out as gay. The documentary Cherry Valentine: Gypsy Queen & Proud was released in January 2022 and chronicled how the RuPaul’s Drag Race star, then 18 years old, left the community and invented his drag alter-ego. Ultimately, George’s wish was for himself and other queer Romani people to be accepted.
However, Cherry’s work was cut short. Cherry’s family announced via THR that the drag queen died on September 18 at 28 years old. “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 & 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,” the statement read. “We understand how much he is loved and how many times he has inspired and touched. All we ask is for your patience and your prayers in this time. We love your Georgie.” The RuPaul’s Drag Race alum’s cause of death has not been released.
Throughout the day, social media was flooded with posts mourning the loss of Cherry. Fellow RuPaul’s Drag Race UK season 2 queen Joe Black shared a few Polaroid selfies and said, “I’m in shock and not quite sure how to process the news. RIP Cherry. I will cherish the times we had together. An exceptional artist and person.” Bimini Bon Boulash, who was a runner-up in Drag Race season 2, shared an Instagram Story and said, “I can’t find the right words. I’m not sure they exist. You saw what others didn’t and showed nothing but kindness, patience and grace. A pure soul. I’ll cherish our memories and the things you taught me. You will continue to inspire me, forever.” Many RuPaul’s Drag Race fans thanked Cherry for sharing their art with the world. One Twitter thread by @hugeasamammoth_ saw fans revisiting favorite Cherry looks, of which there are many.
The loss of Cherry comes a little over two years after the tragic death of Chi Chi DeVayne, a contestant from Drag Race season 8 and RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars season 3, who had previously been hospitalized with suspected kidney failure. In 2012, Drag Race season 2’s Sahara Davenport died of heart failure. Just as the names and legacies of Chi Chi and Sahara live on in the drag community, so will Cherry’s. Future contestants of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK and audiences alike would do well to live by the words said her entrance video: “The world is my stage and I’m gonna use it.”
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