This week, RuPaul’s Drag Race UK is finally returning to our screens with series two, bringing a whole lot of charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent to the nation when we need it most.
Filming for the programme was not smooth-sailing, with the coronavirus pandemic putting the production on pause from March last year right up until November.
In that time, the drag queens in the cast were unable to showcase their talents live on stage to audiences of adoring fans, missing out on one of the most significant elements of their profession for months on end.
For qualified mental health nurse Cherry Valentine, from Darlington, the hiatus provided her with the opportunity to resume nursing, as she thought, ‘I can’t just sit at home, I need to be doing something,’ she told Metro.co.uk.
Earlier this month, after the cast of Drag Race UK series two was announced, the 26-year-old revealed on Twitter that she had received several messages from people saying that she should feel ‘ashamed of doing drag and not working as a nurse’ during the Covid-19 outbreak.
While Cherry stressed in a follow-up tweet that she will ‘never apologise for chasing my dreams’, she added that she actually is still working as a nurse, but doesn’t ‘feel the need to broadcast it 24/7’.
‘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,’ Cherry recalled.
‘I was doing a lot of Covid work as well because I was with a nursing agency, so I was going to A&Es and doing house calls and stuff.
‘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.’
When Cherry received the messages from individuals commenting on how she is choosing to lead her life, she did not respond to them as she prefers not to ‘engage with negativity’.
However, she decided to speak out about the DMs to show that ‘there’s more to us than meets the eye on social media’.
‘I did receive a couple of DMs from people stating things like, “I can’t believe you’re doing drag when you’re a nurse and people are dying, why are you not doing it?”’ Cherry said.
‘Let other people live their life and don’t just always assume what people are doing or assume the worst for people. Just keep an open mind because you don’t actually know everyone’s story.’
Going into nursing hadn’t always been the plan for Cherry, who grew up with a strong affinity for art and began working professionally as a drag queen in 2019.
However, her parents’ desire for her to go into a medical profession and her ‘interest in people’ led her down the path towards becoming a mental health nurse.
In Cherry’s experience, she has found that mental health and drag go ‘hand in hand’.
‘Knowing a lot about mental health, it’s really helped me in the clubs,’ she revealed.
‘When you’re in drag in a nightclub and people are drunk, they feel comfortable talking to the drag queens. They’ll literally meet you for five minutes and tell you their whole life story.
‘It would throw a lot of people off, but it’s what I’m used to.’
While entertainment venues remain closed for the time being, Cherry has one particular ambition she’d like to realise in the coming year – helping to administer the coronavirus vaccine.
‘That’s one of the reasons I’m going back to doing nursing, because I’ve applied to do vaccine stations so I can give it out a bit quicker,’ she stated.
‘I just hope… if you’re offered the vaccine, just accept it if you’re medically cleared to take it. Because we need to get back to some form of normality.
‘I don’t think it’ll ever get exactly back as it was, but we’ll still be able to have a bit more freedom. The new normal.’
RuPaul’s Drag Race UK launches Thursday at 7pm on BBC iPlayer (UK) and WOW Presents (in other countries).
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