29 April 1935
Liverpool, England, UK
(m. 1963; div. 1970)
(m. 1980s; div. 1990s)
April Ashley, MBE (born 29 April 1935) is an English model and restaurant hostess. She was outed as a transsexual woman by the Sunday People newspaper in 1961 and is one of the earliest British people known to have had sex reassignment surgery.
Born George Jamieson on 29 April 1935, in Sefton General Hospital, Liverpool, she was one of six surviving children of a Roman Catholic father and a Protestant mother. In her childhood in Liverpool, Ashley suffered from both calcium deficiency, requiring weekly calcium injections at the Alder Hey Children's Hospital, and bed-wetting, resulting in her being given her own box room aged two when the family moved house.
1950s to 1970s
She joined the Merchant Navy in 1951 at the age of 16. Following a suicide attempt, she was given a dishonourable discharge and a second attempt resulted in Ashley being sent to the mental institution in Ormskirk aged 17 for treatments.
In her book The First Lady, Ashley tells the story of the rape she endured while still living as a man. A roommate raped her, and she was severely injured as a result of the horrific sexual assault.
After leaving hospital Ashley moved to London, at one point claiming to have shared a boarding house with then ship's steward John Prescott. Having started cross-dressing, she moved to Paris in the late 1950s, began using the name Toni April and joined the famous French entertainer Coccinelle in the cast of the drag cabaret at the Carousel Theatre.
At the age of 25, having saved £3,000, Ashley had a seven-hour-long sex reassignment surgery in May 12, 1960, performed in Casablanca, Morocco by Dr Georges Burou. All her hair fell out and she endured significant pain, but the operation was successful.
After returning to Britain, Ashley began using the name April Ashley and became a successful fashion model, appearing in such publications as Vogue (photographed by David Bailey) and winning a small role in the film The Road to Hong Kong, which starred Bing Crosby and Bob Hope.
After a friend sold her story to the media, in 1961 under the headline "'Her' secret is out", the Sunday People outed Ashley as a trans woman. She became a centre of attention and some scandal, and her film credit was instantly dropped.
In November 1960, Ashley had met Hon. Arthur Corbett (later 3rd Baron Rowallan), the Eton-educated son and heir of Lord Rowallan, who enjoyed cross-dressing. They wed in 1963, but the marriage quickly broke down. Ashley's lawyers wrote to Corbett in 1966 demanding maintenance payments and in 1967 Corbett responded by filing suit to have the marriage annulled. The annulment was granted in 1970 on the grounds that Ashley was male, even though Corbett knew about her history when they married.
After a heart attack in London, Ashley retired for some years to the Welsh border town of Hay-on-Wye. In her book April Ashley's Odyssey she stated that Amanda Lear was born male as Alain Tapp and they had worked together at Le Carousel where Lear had used the name Peki d'Oslo. Ashley was once great friends with Lear, but according to Ashley's book The First Lady, the two women had a major falling out and haven't spoken in years.
In the 1980s, Ashley married Jeffrey West, on the retired cruise ship RMS Queen Mary in Long Beach, California. In 2005, after the passage of the Gender Recognition Act 2004, Ashley was finally legally recognised as a female and issued with a new birth certificate. The then Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom John Prescott, who knew Ashley from the 1950s, helped her with the procedure.
April Ashley's Odyssey, a biography by Duncan Fallowell, was published in 1982. In 2006, Ashley released her autobiography The First Lady and made TV appearances on Channel Five News, This Morning and BBC News. In one interview, she said, "This is the real story and contains a lot of things I just couldn't say in 1982", including alleged affairs with Michael Hutchence, Peter O'Toole, Omar Sharif, Turner Prize sculptor Grayson Perry and the future 19th Duke of Infantado, among others. However, the book was pulped [clarification needed] after it was discovered that it had heavily plagiarized the 1982 book written about Ashley.
There is currently a film being produced by Pacific Films and Limey Yank Productions about April Ashley's life.
Awards and honors
- Ashley was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2012 Birthday Honours for services to transgender equality.
- A major exhibition 'April Ashley: portrait of a lady' was held at the Museum of Liverpool from 27 September 2013 to 1 March 2015.
- Ashley was awarded a Lifetime Achievement honour at the European Diversity Awards 2014.
- "'Her' secret is out" (jpg). The Sunday People. 19 November 1961. Retrieved 20 December 2014.
- Corbett v Corbett (EWHC 1970). Text
- Fallowell, Duncan; Ashley, April (1982). April Ashley's Odyssey. Jonathan Cape Ltd. ISBN 978-0224018494. Retrieved 20 December 2014.
- Thompson, Douglas; Ashley, April (2006). First Lady. Blake Publishing. ISBN 1-84454-231-9.
- Gilmore, Stephen; Herring, Jonathan; Probert, Rebecca (2011). Landmark Cases in Family Law. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 978-1849461016.
- Johnston, Jenny (3 June 2006). "How Prescott made a woman out of me". Daily Mail. Retrieved 23 May 2010.
- "Sex and the single grande dame". The Sydney Morning Herald. 4 June 2005. Retrieved 28 March 2015.
- "April Ashley". IMDB.
- Durrant, Sabine (22 August 2010). "April Ashley interview: Britain's first transsexual". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 22 September 2010. Retrieved 28 March 2015.
- "At the court of Queen Lear". The Observer. 24 December 2000. Retrieved 2010-08-30.
- Identity - April Ashley's US Resident Alien identification card - Wellcome Collection; accessed 28 March 2015.
- "An Audience with April Ashley". Homotopia. Archived from the original on 22 August 2009. Retrieved 28 March 2015.
- "An Evening With April Ashley at the Southbank Centre". flickr. Retrieved 28 March 2015.
- "Discriminating Beauty". Out Northwest. p. 23. Retrieved 28 March 2015.
- "Pioneering Trans Model April Ashley Gets Movie Deal, Honor From Queen Elizabeth". Queerty. Retrieved 28 March 2015.
- The London Gazette: . 16 June 2012.
- "Kenneth Branagh knighted in Queen's Birthday Honours". BBC News. 16 June 2012. Retrieved 28 March 2015.
- "Evan Davis and April Ashley Triumph at European Diversity Awards". www.EQView.com. Retrieved 28 March 2015.[permanent dead link]