Drag Race UK’s Cherry Valentine felt ‘privileged’ to work as a nurse during COVID pandemic
Drag Race UK star Cherry Valentine felt “so privileged” to be able to work as a mental health nurse and help people impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Cherry, whose name was George Ward, tragically died at the age of 28, it was announced Friday (23 September). A statement from Ward’s family confirmed that the drag performer died on Sunday (18 September) and said they knew “how many lives” Ward “inspired and touched”.
Ward rose to fame after they appeared in the second season of Drag Race UK and made history as the first-ever queen of Romany descent to appear in any series across the Drag Race franchise.
Ward qualified as a mental health nurse in 2015 before starting their drag career. The beloved queen returned to work in the NHS as a mental health nurse when the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the UK in 2020.
Ward told PinkNews that working in mental health services during lockdown was hard work, but they wanted to help those in need.
“I’d be lying if I said it was fun,” Cherry Valentine said.
“It was madness, absolute madness, but I just feel so privileged to have been able to help however I can.”
Ward added in a candid Instagram post that they became a mental health nurse because they “just wanted to help those who needed it”.
“It’s extremely difficult for one person to change a system, and a societal view, but the positive collaborative work between people really does have the power to change the world, raise awareness, shed light, and that is what campaigns like this can continue to do,” Ward wrote.
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Ward was also very open about their own mental health journey. They told PinkNews about how they thought they were the “only gay person in the world” when growing up in the Traveller community.
“It wasn’t talked about… The feelings that I had, the only person I ever mentioned anything to was my mother, when I was really, really young,” Ward said.
“She was like: ‘We can’t talk about that. It’s just something that’s a no-go’.”
They continued: “When we started watching TV a bit more, because we moved into a house, adverts would start coming on, or like storylines Coronation Street and EastEnders about LGBT+ relationships.
“[The channel would] just get turned straight over, and we weren’t weren’t allowed to talk about it.”
Cherry said things at the time felt “really lonely”.
“I think a lot of LGBT+ people can resonate with that. It’s not just specifically because I’m from a different community, I think it’s something that we all feel growing up at times.
“It was just a little bit magnified.”
Ward described how they eventually made the decision to go to university because they feared they were “not going to be alive for much longer” if they stayed where they were.
“It sounds so dramatic when I talk about it now, but that’s honestly how I felt at the time,” Ward said.
“So I made the decision to go to university, I spoke to my college tutor and was like, ‘I need to move away, I need to do something.’ And then I just moved away for uni.”
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Fellow Drag Race stars and RuPaul remembered Cherry Valentine for their loving spirit, tireless work as a mental health nurse and dedication to championing the LGBTQ+ community.
Many fans also thanked the queen for breaking down barriers for marginalised communities with her BBC Three documentary, Cherry Valentine: Gypsy Queen and Proud.
LGBTQ+ youth charity Just Like Us described Ward as a “fierce advocate” for queer young people.
The charity added Ward had worked with them recently around “raising awareness of the need for LGBT+ inclusive education schools” and the need for more support for queer students.
“Cherry was fiercely dedicated to supporting LGBT+ young people and raising awareness of the intersections of being part of both the LGBT+ and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities,” Just Like Us added.
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