The stars of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK have paid tribute to former contestant George Ward, known as Cherry Valentine, following his death aged 28.
Ward, who died on Sunday, appeared on the second series of the BBC Three show, before launching a TV career and fronting the BBC documentary Gypsy Queen And Proud.
A statement from his family expressed their “profound shock” and asked for “patience and your prayers in this time”.
Series one star Cheryl Hole, real name Luke Underwood-Bleach, led tributes on social media, tweeting: “I never thought I’d have to write something like this about such a talented and beautiful person that was Cherry.
“We have lost an incredible queen and I’m honestly devastated! RIP @TheCValentine I LOVE YOU.”
Ellie Diamond, who appeared in series two alongside Ward, shared a photo of them together on Instagram.
The post said: “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!”
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.”
Tributes also came from Good Morning Britain presenter Charlotte Hawkins, who recalled meeting Ward at Epsom Racecourse, and drag queen and author Glamrou.
Glamrou, real name Amrou Al-Kadhi, said: “Winded by the devastating news about Cherry Valentine. I can’t believe it. A true queen. Rest in peace my dear.”
Ward’s family announced his death on Friday morning in a statement to the PA news agency that 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.
“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.”
A fundraiser on the GoFundMe website has so far raised more than £5,000 for a vigil in memory of Ward, with donations coming from Drag Race UK stars Tia Kofi, A’Whora and River Medway.
Ward was raised in Darlington, County Durham as part of the Traveller community and qualified as a mental health nurse in 2015, before starting his career in drag.
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.
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.”
After appearing on the show, Ward worked with the BBC to produce a documentary exploring his Traveller heritage.
In the 2022 special, called Gypsy Queen And Proud, he revisited the community he left aged 18.
He also performed publicly and appeared in music videos by artists such as Charli XCX.
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