TV

Cherry Valentine Went From “Drag Race U.K.” to the COVID-19 Frontline

The Darlington queen and registered nurse talks trading her heels for scrubs.

The cast of RuPaul’s Drag Race U.K. Season 2 is so strong, critiquing the queens is like splitting hairs. That’s why the eliminations so far have left fans — and the remaining queens — gooped and gagged. The premiere sent cabaret legend Joe Black packin’, and in the latest episode, we had to say goodbye to the Darlington darling, Cherry Valentine.

Cherry spoke with NewNowNext about her time on the series, ratting it up in the Rusical, and what it was like going from the Drag Race U.K. runway to the frontline fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
 

Hi Cherry! So, fans have been shook by these eliminations…

I think we all are.

I want to know what it was like walking back into the workroom after Joe Black was eliminated. Did you think, “Wow, no one is safe”?

It was such a surreal experience because I think when we all saw Joe come into the workroom, we expected Joe to go all the way. Joe is an especially known name. Everyone knows Joe Black, and they are so fabulous at what they do. So when Joe left after the first episode, I think it really shook everyone up a little bit, and to expect the unexpected.

I was definitely shook, and by your elimination as well. But in this week’s episode, I love that emotional moment you had while putting on your makeup and talking about your childhood. How did being on Drag Race change you? Did it give you more self-confidence?

Honestly, yeah. I mean, people say it. I’ve listened to some of these queens do an interview after the show, and they say that it’s changed them, and I never really believed it. But when you actually do it, it really does change you. I think it makes you feel more you, in a weird way. I think it’s really opened my mind to a lot, and it’s really made me feel like I shouldn’t care as much what people think. And like I said to RuPaul when I was on stage, I feel like it’s lit a little fire under me because it has. I feel like I need to just make everything so elevated now and really push it to the max.

Have you spoken to any of the girls from U.K. Season 1?

I’m quite close to Divina. But yeah, I’ve spoken to a lot of them since, and they’ve all been super supportive, and very good at giving advice.

WOW

So, Darlington — is there a drag scene there? What’s it like being a queen from Darlington?

Well, I actually have no idea because I’ve never done drag in Darlington on the scene before as a drag queen. But I’ve been out on the odd night out, and I only remember about two queens who were there. They’re both fabulous, but they’re very rough around the edges. But I just love British drag. It’s really… and I think in the North of England, especially, it’s just really working class. It’s very relatable, and I love that about it.

What is your drag origin story?

Honestly, it was the women in my family, because [I grew up] with women who were so fabulous, and they always had big hair. They really do. It’s not even a joke to wear heels to go to the corner shop. That wasn’t even an exaggeration. They always wear makeup, and I think that’s what really planted the seeds for me in terms of my passion for drag. And I thought, “Why can’t I be so fabulous? Why can’t I do all these things?” And then as I grew up and got older, I realized that I could do it.

I want to talk about the Rats Rusical. I think those Rusicals must be so hard because you’re really singing, you have to remember choreography. What was it like for you?

Yeah, it was incredibly stressful. I mean, me as a queen, I don’t really have theater experience. I’ve worked onstage before, and I’ve performed hundreds of times, but to be in a musical, I’ve never done it. I really did enjoy it. It was a good lesson, to be honest. And watching it back, I was really proud of everything that we did. And I think I put on an alright show, to be fair. I was proud of what I did.

These queens! You are all so good that it’s like splitting hairs.

Thank you. Yeah, it really is.

And the surprise runway. I love the yellow and the gender reveal, but do you think there are too many reveals these days in drag performances?

Part of me does. Yeah, I do actually. I agree with that, because we see reveals all the time. I mean, I’ve done so many reveals when I’ve performed — I’ve done wig reveals, kick changes, slipped into something else. I have done it, and that’s why I wanted to do something different that I thought not many people have seen before. And that’s where the gender-reveal idea came from. I literally made it the day before we went, and I didn’t even practice doing the reveal. The first time I did it was on the runway, but I’m happy with it.

Were you surprised when you were in the bottom two?

I was actually surprised, yeah. I was surprised because I thought there were a lot of people who did a lot worse than me. Everyone was good, and everyone performed quite well, but I don’t think I did the worst. I don’t think Tayce did, either. But it is what it is, and then the judges have their critique for a reason, and we’re all there to do what we can do. And we deal with the cards that we’ve been given. So I’m just riding the wave and seeing where it takes me.

Slow ballad lip-syncs can be really hard, and I thought you and Tayce just killed it. You brought the judges to literal tears! Can you just take me back to that moment?

Honestly, I remember being stood on stage because it’s so long ago it’s hard to think of everything specifically, but I remember, vividly, being on stage in the middle of the song, and everyone just in tears. And I just felt like, “This is actually quite emotional, what we’re doing right now. This is a lot.” And I was just like, I’ve never performed slow songs before, and I don’t ever because I really do get too emotionally involved. And I’ve never seen Tayce perform before, and I was quite interested to see what she would do. In that moment it was very overwhelming. And I think it was a moment that none of us expected to happen, but I think it was nice that it did happen, in a way.

You saw the queens wiping away tears, and I was just… it was surprisingly emotional.

Yeah. And I think a reason for that as well was because no one expected it, and because it literally just comes from nowhere. We’re on this massive high when we’re learning this popular musical, and we’re chatting to everyone, and doing all this. And next minute, one of them is about to go and lip sync into a really emotional song, but I think it took us all by surprise.

Does your family know you’re on Drag Race? What’s the latest with that?

The only person I’ve spoken to about it is my mother. So she knows that I’m on Drag Race. I don’t think she’s watched it yet. I don’t really speak to her that much, but last time I spoke to her, when the first episode came out, I was like, “Have you seen it?” And she said that she hadn’t seen it yet, but she’s happy that I’m happy and doing what I love doing, so I can’t really ask for much more.

That’s nice. What was your favorite moment from set?

Just being around everyone who loves the same things, because although I’d worked in drag scenes for a while and seen loads of people and interacted with people, I think it’s really different when you’re on Drag Race. These are people who are unbelievably passionate, and this is their life. Drag is their life. And it was really inspiring to be around so many people who have the same passion as me. Meeting RuPaul, obviously. I have to say that or I’ll get sued. Meeting RuPaul was absolutely incredible. It really was. I didn’t feel like it was real when it was happening.

Yeah, I bet. And you’re a qualified mental-health nurse. Did you work as an essential worker during the pandemic?

I did, I did. We stopped filming because of the pandemic. And then I was at home, and I was thinking to myself, “I’m a qualified nurse. I can’t just stay at home. I could be helping out.” So I put my nurse’s uniform back on and then just went onto the front lines and literally just did what I could. It was a moment in time that I’ll never forget. I learned a lot of lessons from it.

What was that like? I think it would be really stressful.

Yeah, it was unbelievably stressful. I mean, I’m mental health-focused, so normally I’m doing therapy, medication, things like that, but then being a nurse in a pandemic, you sort of get thrown into a different world. And I ended up on the intensive care unit, so I did A and E [the emergency room] with people with COVID. It was really, really intense, but it was something that’s really changed me, and I think it’s changed me for the better, to be honest, enough to be one of the things I can see from this whole pandemic. I’ve actually just got another job as a nurse at the minute because the U.K. has gone into another lockdown again. So I’m starting in vaccinations because it’s another pair of hands, isn’t it? So if I can help speed things up to some form of normalcy, then all the better.

Usually for a queen, being on Drag Race is the most intense, stressful thing they do that year. But for you, I would imagine it was being a nurse.

Yeah. They were both equally stressful for very different reasons, so it felt like double the stress, but I didn’t really get phased by it. Looking back, it did probably affect me for a little bit, but at the time I was just going with the flow.

Wow. Well, thank you for doing that. That’s really brave.

Oh, thank you.

What can fans expect now from Cherry? What can we look forward to?

They can expect the unexpected, literally, with my drag. Others say it sounds cheesy, but I just want it to be everywhere. Drag can be anything, and I’m really passionate about doing everything I can with it. I want to try everything out and see what I like best. I want to do music; I want to do film; I want to do photography; I like fashion. I want to do it all. And I think I’m really motivated and passionate enough to be able to, so I’m going to do all sorts of things. So, they can be excited for everything.

I write about drag queens. Dolly Parton once ruffled my hair and said I was "just the cutest thing ever."
@chrisreindeer