Drag performer George Ward, known by his stage name Cherry Valentine, has died at the age of 28, his family have announced.
Ward, who died on Sunday, appeared on the second series of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK, before launching a TV career and fronting the BBC documentary Gypsy Queen And Proud.
A statement from his family 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.”
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.”
Good Morning Britain presenter Charlotte Hawkins was among those paying tribute.
She tweeted: “Very sad to hear that Cherry Valentine has died, aged just 28. We met back in June at Epsom – so full of life then, it’s hard to believe. Sending love to George’s family & friends, just heartbreaking.”
Drag queen and author Glamrou, real name Amrou Al-Kadhi, added: “Winded by the devastating news about Cherry Valentine. I can’t believe it. A true queen. Rest in peace my dear.”
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.”
After appearing on the show, Ward joined 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.