Drag performer George Ward, known by his stage name Cherry Valentine, has died at the age of 28.
Ward starred on the second season of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK and went on to helm the BBC documentary Gypsy Queen and Proud.
He died on Sunday (18th September), a statement from his family announced.
"It is with the most heart-wrenching and deepest sadness to inform you that our George – Cherry Valentine – has tragically passed away," a statement from his family read.
"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."
They continued: "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."
Ward grew up in Darlington, County Durham as part of the Traveller community and qualified as a mental health nurse in 2015, before embarking upon his career in drag.
In December 2020, Cherry Valentine was announced as one of 12 contestants competing in the second run of the UK version of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
After starring on the show, Ward fronted a BBC documentary exploring his Traveller heritage, titled Gypsy Queen and Proud.
Ahead of the launch of Drag Race UK in January 2021, Ward said in an interview: "I’m not just a drag queen, I’m a fully qualified mental health nurse too. I believe that everyone could do with a bit of therapy (especially now), and I think that being a nurse has helped create my drag and that drag has helped my nursing. I understand both myself and other people a lot more now.
"During the pandemic, I put my nursing kit back on and went back to the frontline and did what I could to help."
Ward added: "Growing up on a gypsy camp, my view of life was really different to others, and doing drag has really opened my eyes, and given me a new lease of life. I never thought I’d be doing this. I just thought I’d grow up, do my dad’s job, do a few cars up, so to be sat here right now, I feel really proud of myself. The world is now my stage and that’s exciting. It gives me shivers!"
Tributes have flooded in for Ward on social media following the tragic news.
BBC Three controller Fiona Campbell said: "We are all shocked and heartbroken to hear the news of the passing of George, known to many as Cherry Valentine."
Season 4 RuPaul’s Drag Race UK contestant Jonbers Blonde wrote on Twitter: “Always and forever.”
Canada’s Drag Race season 2 contestant Eve 6000 tweeted: “RIP Cherry Valentine. Absolutely heartbreaking.”