Cherry Valentine, originally from Darlington, rose to fame after featuring on season 2 of RuPaul's Drag Race UK.
She was eliminated in episode 2 – but made an impression on millions with her frank discussion of growing up gay in the travelling community, and working as a mental health nurse.
Since featuring on the show, the pandemic hit, and Cherry went back to working for the NHS – and is now working as a vaccination nurse!
We spoke to her about what it’s like to be back on the frontline, growing up in Darlington, and the impact she’s made for those hoping to follow in her footsteps.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
How has it been working on the frontline? It must be a particularly difficult time to work in the NHS right now?
Busy! I’m qualified as a mental health nurse, and when we stopped filming because of the pandemic, I went back into nursing, because there was so much going on.Because of coronavirus, I was drafted away from mental health to work on COVID wards and ICU, where I have never worked before and it was really really intense. But I’ve learnt so much from the experience.
I then went back to filming Drag Race until November, and I went straight back to work, and now I’m working in a vaccination centre because I thought an extra pair of hands might speed things up.
What is it like being part of the vaccine rollout, do you feel like you’re part of something historic?Do you know, I’ve never been one of those people who really sits back and thinks about what I'm doing, I just get on with life, and if I've got a job, I'll just put my head down and do it. But, I'm trying to learn how to reflect a little bit more, and I do appreciate it, and I’m glad that I can be part of this massive effort.
You spoke on the show about your struggles growing up gay in the traveller community. Do you think that attitudes have changed since you were younger?
Growing up in Darlington was such a wild experience, and it really is completely different to the life that I live now. Growing up in the family and in the community that I did, everything was so old fashioned, everyone was expected to live in their stereotypical roles and everything. And now I just do whatever I like, it is a different world. I think a lot of people's ideas are moving forward though!
Did you feel like you could become a drag queen in Darlington, or did you feel like that was something you couldn’t explore until you left?
I didn't feel initially that I could have done it in Darlington, just because my family were there, and I would have been terrified when she saw me out and about.
I moved over to Manchester University, and I met my partner when I was at university, and in first year and we used to go to Canal Street all the time, because it's just fabulous.
That's where I really discovered drag and like, the spectrum of what drag can actually be and it's what really, really lit the fire I think.
However since leaving, I’ve been back to Darlington quite a few times, me and my friends used to go out on Mondays and I met some of the drag queens in Darlington, and I thought - drag is everywhere, it’s absolutely everywhere and I love it, it's amazing.
Are things better now for young people who want to get into drag?
Yes, definitely! I think there's more opportunities for people who do drag now, and it’s seen as such an art form now. I think there's more and more opportunities coming up all the time. I think when everything opens up again, after lockdown, it’ll become even bigger and I can’t wait to see it.
How do you think things are for young LGBTQI+ people in the North East now?
It’s incredible and I think things are getting better and better. I didn't realize the amount of support that I'd get from people in the North watching the show, people I've never met in my life messaged me saying like, ‘you're doing it for the North’ which I loved. Everyone in the North East is great at rallying behind people who are doing good.
Your ‘hometown tribute’ runway look was amazing, I wondered if you were going to do trains!
I was actually going to do the brick train at first, but I thought people might not know it – you can’t not do trains if you’re from Darlington!!
Do you hope that younger people in Darlington and the North East look up to you, and see that they can achieve similar, great things?
I hope so. When I was growing up, I didn't really have anyone to look up to in that sense, I felt like I knew who I wanted to be, but I didn't know how to go about it. So I do think it's nice that people can look up to someone like me.
I never went into the show thinking that people would look to me and think oh my gosh, I can do that. But it's so humbling, and I really do appreciate it.
Lastly, what's your message to people who are maybe they are struggling with themselves or they don't feel like they can be themselves at the moment, what would you say to them?
I would say just be you. Don't care what anyone else thinks,because life is way too short to care about what other people think about you. So just take advantage of the chances you get, and have fun!!