THE GYPSY QUEEN (and PROUD)
Born into the travelling community in Darlington, he had what he felt was a difficult upbringing. The community had very fixed ideas on sexual stereotyping and what the roles of men and women should be. “My first memories are playing out with all the lads at one of the camps. I felt like I should be playing with the girls in the trailer and doing my hair. I just didn’t ever feel I fitted in properly.”
There was an expectation that when he left school George would become a mechanic, get married and have kids – “and that’s it!”
So, when he left school, he had a decision to make – to stay and fulfil expectations, or to leave. “I sort of realised I needed to make the decision on whether to just do it or to get away from that and move away.” He ran away from home. His mother was the only person he kept contact with.
He took himself to college where he studied psychiatry, literature and science. His interests were increasingly in fashion and art.
But it was tough. “It was really difficult because I felt really alone. I had some really dark times.”
So he decided to go to Lancaster University to study Mental Health Nursing, in the hope it would help him conquer his demons.
Whilst he was at university he discovered the drag scene in Manchester – and a new social life opened up to him.
Meanwhile he qualified as a nurse and started working with CAMHS (Child and Mental Health Services), specialising in children with Huntingdon’s Disease.
And in 2018 he created his alter-ego, drag queen Cherry Valentine. He suddenly felt a freedom being a performing artist (and it brought out his fashion side, designing and producing his own costumes). From now on he used the term ‘they’ instead of him (or he/she).
He/She was auditioned for the second series of the television show RuPaul’s Drag Race in November 2019 – and accepted.
But then the Covid pandemic broke out and the filming of the show was postponed. He/ She spent the whole pandemic period working in a vaccination centre.
He/She did not feel the two roles were incompatible. “Working as a nurse 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.”
Filming finally began in 2020 and the programme was shown in 2021. Cherry Valentine was introduced as, “Glamour, dark and gothic.”
Cherry was popular with the audience, especially for his/her “irresistibly infectious laugh.” Nevertheless, Cherry was voted out of the series quite early on.
But the BBC realised they had a potential star on their hands.
In 2022, a documentary was made where Cherry went back to his/her roots. It was called ‘Gypsy Queen and Proud’. “It was something that I wanted to do because if I was younger and saw something like that, it maybe would have helped me to feel a little bit different about it.”
Cherry said she/he was inspired by the Romani women she was surrounded by as a child. “I remember growing up and they would always wear heels to go to the corner shop and wear fabulous make up, of course…That really pushed me to be more polished and to be more glamourous.”
Cherry remained an LGBT rights activist.
His/her death was sudden and unexpected. The family announced it saying, “It is with the most heart-wrenching and deepest sadness to inform you that our George – Cherry Valentine – has tragically passed away.”
The BBC called Cherry, “an inspiration to many.”
We leave the last words to George. “Cherry is just the part of me that I want to be when I’m out of drag. Obviously, we’re the same person.”
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