The performer, who was born George Ward, died on Sunday, a statement from their family announced, as tributes from fans and fellow stars of the show flooded social media.
‘It is with the most heart-wrenching and deepest sadness to inform you that our George – Cherry Valentine – has tragically passed away,’ the statement 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.’
In a tribute, Drag Race UK said they are ‘heartbroken that Cherry has passed away’.
‘She was a kind soul who brought joy and a distinctive laugh to everyone she met. She brought flair, verve and charm to #DragRaceUK, we will miss her so deeply,’ the statement read.
BBC Three also said: ‘We are devastated at the passing of George, who we knew as Cherry Valentine.’
Drag Race host RuPaul paid tribute in an emotional message on Twitter, writing: ‘So sad to hear. A bright star and a lovely person. @TheCValentine Always in our hearts.’
Fiona Campbell, BBC Three Controller, added: ‘We are all shocked and heartbroken to hear the news of the passing of George, known to many as Cherry Valentine.’
Ward, who was raised in Darlington, County Durham as part of the Traveller community, qualified as a mental health nurse in 2015.
When the production for Drag Race UK series two was put on hold from March 2020 up until November that year due the coronavirus pandemic, Ward felt determined to resume nursing.
In January 2021 before the launch of the season, Ward spoke to Metro.co.uk, explaining that during the hiatus, they thought: ‘I can’t just sit at home, I need to be doing something.’
‘I ended up going back into [nursing], working in neuro for a bit for a couple of months. It was high intensity neuro for adults, so it was [treating patients with] brain damage and brain injuries,’ they said at the time.
‘It was a weird crossover because I’m obviously mental health-trained. During the pandemic, it was very physical health-focused, so it was dealing with Covid, which was a bit of a shock. I did that until we went back filming again.’
Ward was the second competitor to be eliminated from Drag Race UK series two, after performing in the Rusical and delivering a runway look in front of guest judge Sheridan Smith.
After appearing on Drag Race UK, Ward continued pursuing his TV career, fronting a BBC documentary titled Gypsy Queen And Proud, which saw them revisit the community they left when they were 18 years old.
The late performer also appeared in music videos by artists such as Charli XCX.
In their introductory video for Drag Race UK series two, they described their Cherry Valentine alter-ego as ‘glamour’, ‘dark’ and ‘gothic’, saying that working 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,’ they said in the clip.
Cherry left Drag Race UK guest judge Smith in tears during an emotional lip sync with fellow competitor Tayce before Ward was eliminated from the competition in January 2021.
The pair had delivered a lip sync to Elaine Paige’s version of Memory, performing in front of judges RuPaul, Alan Carr and Michelle Visage.
A fundraising page has been set up on GoFundMe to raise money for a vigil in Ward’s hour, with a set target of £10,000.