April Ashley

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April Ashley

An Evening With April Ashley at the Southbank Centre4.jpg
Born (1935-04-29) 29 April 1935 (age 85)
Liverpool, England
(m. 1963; annulled 1970)
  • Jeffrey West
    (m. 1980s; div. 1990s)

April Ashley, MBE (born 29 April 1935) is an English model and restaurant hostess. She was outed as a transgender woman by the Sunday People newspaper in 1961[1] and is one of the earliest British people known to have had sex reassignment surgery. Her marriage was annulled in a notable court case known as Corbett v Corbett.

Early life[edit]

Born in Smithdown Hospital in Liverpool, Ashley was one of six surviving children of a Roman Catholic father Frederick Jamieson and Protestant mother Ada Brown,[2] who had married two years before.[3] During 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.[4]

1950s to 1970s[edit]

She joined the Merchant Navy in 1951 at the age of 16.[5] Following a suicide attempt, she was given dishonourable discharge[4] and a second attempt resulted in Ashley being sent to the mental institution in Ormskirk at age 17.[5]

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.[6]

Gender transition[edit]

After leaving hospital Ashley moved to London, at one point claiming to have shared a boarding house with then ship's steward John Prescott, later deputy prime minister of the United Kingdom. Having started cross-dressing, she moved to Paris in the late 1950s, began using the name Toni April, and joined the entertainer Coccinelle in the cast of the drag cabaret at the Caroussel Theatre.[5][7]

At the age of 25, having saved £3,000, Ashley had a seven-hour-long sex reassignment surgery on 12 May 1960, performed in Casablanca, Morocco, by Georges Burou. All her hair fell out, and she endured significant pain, but the operation was successful.[5][7]

Modelling career, public outing[edit]

After returning to Britain, Ashley began using the name April Ashley and became a successful fashion model, appearing in Vogue (photographed by David Bailey[8]) and winning a small role in the film The Road to Hong Kong, which starred Bing Crosby and Bob Hope.[7][9][10]

A friend sold her story to the media in 1961, and the Sunday People outed Ashley as a trans woman. She became a centre of attention and some scandal, and her film credit was dropped.[1][10]

In November 1960, Ashley met Hon. Arthur Corbett (later 3rd Baron Rowallan), the Eton-educated son and heir of Lord Rowallan. They wed in 1963, but the marriage quickly ended. 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 the court considered Ashley to be male, but Corbett knew about her history when they married.[5][7][8] This is the case known as Corbett v Corbett.

Later life[edit]

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 assigned male at birth and that they had worked together at Le Carousel where Lear had used the drag name Peki d'Oslo.[4] Ashley was once great friends with Lear,[11] but according to Ashley's book The First Lady, they had a major falling out and haven't spoken in years.

In the 1980s, Ashley married Jeffrey West on the cruise ship RMS Queen Mary in Long Beach, California.[12] In 2005, after the passage of the Gender Recognition Act 2004, Ashley was legally recognised as 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.[citation needed]

Ashley talked about her life at St George's Hall, Liverpool as part of the city's Homotopia festival on 15 November 2008,[13] and on 18 February 2009 at the South Bank Centre.[14]

She lives in Fulham, South West London.[10]


April Ashley's Odyssey, a biography by Duncan Fallowell, was published in 1982.[4] In 2006, Ashley released her autobiography The First Lady[6] 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 Íñigo de Arteaga y Martín, the future 19th duke of Infantado, and others. However, the book was pulled from the market after it was discovered that it heavily plagiarized the 1982 book written about Ashley.[15]

In 2012, Pacific Films and Limey Yank Productions announced a project to create a film about Ashley's life.[16]

Awards and honours[edit]

  • Ashley was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2012 Birthday Honours for services to transgender equality.[17][18]
  • The exhibition "April Ashley: portrait of a lady" was held at the Museum of Liverpool from 27 September 2013 to 1 March 2015.[19]
  • Ashley was awarded a Lifetime Achievement honour at the European Diversity Awards 2014.[20]


  1. ^ a b "'Her' secret is out" (jpg). The Sunday People. 19 November 1961. Retrieved 20 December 2014. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. ^ Jones, Kay. "Radical Objects: April Ashley's Birth Certificate & Birthday Card". History Workshop. Retrieved 24 March 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ “Brown Ada & Jamieson Frederick” in Register of Marriages for Liverpool Registration District, vol. 8b (1933), p. 229
  4. ^ a b c d Fallowell, Duncan; Ashley, April (1982). April Ashley's Odyssey. Jonathan Cape Ltd. ISBN 978-0224018494. Retrieved 20 December 2014. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. ^ a b c d e Corbett v Corbett (EWHC 1970).Text
  6. ^ a b Thompson, Douglas; Ashley, April (2006). First Lady. Blake Publishing. ISBN 1-84454-231-9.
  7. ^ a b c d Gilmore, Stephen; Herring, Jonathan; Probert, Rebecca (2011). Landmark Cases in Family Law. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 978-1849461016.
  8. ^ a b "Sex and the single grande dame". The Sydney Morning Herald. 4 June 2005. Retrieved 28 March 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  9. ^ "April Ashley". IMDB.
  10. ^ a b c 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. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  11. ^ "At the court of Queen Lear". The Observer. 24 December 2000. Retrieved 30 August 2010. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  12. ^ Identity - April Ashley's US Resident Alien identification card - Wellcome Collection Archived 3 October 2011 at the Wayback Machine; accessed 28 March 2015.
  13. ^ "An Audience with April Ashley". Homotopia. Archived from the original on 22 August 2009. Retrieved 28 March 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  14. ^ "An Evening With April Ashley at the Southbank Centre". flickr. Retrieved 28 March 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  15. ^ "Discriminating Beauty". Out Northwest. p. 23. Retrieved 28 March 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  16. ^ "Pioneering Trans Model April Ashley Gets Movie Deal, Honor From Queen Elizabeth". Queerty. Retrieved 28 March 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  17. ^ "No. 60173". The London Gazette (Supplement). 16 June 2012. p. 13.
  18. ^ "Kenneth Branagh knighted in Queen's Birthday Honours". BBC News. 16 June 2012. Retrieved 28 March 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  19. ^ http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/mol/exhibitions/april-ashley/
  20. ^ "Evan Davis and April Ashley Triumph at European Diversity Awards". www.EQView.com. Archived from the original on 8 January 2016. Retrieved 28 March 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)

External links[edit]