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April Ashley

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April Ashley
Ashley at the Southbank Centre, 2009
Born(1935-04-29)29 April 1935
Liverpool, England
Died27 December 2021(2021-12-27) (aged 86)
London, England
Resting placeFord Cemetery
Other namesToni April
The Hon. April Corbett
April West
Occupation(s)model, activist, author
Height1.78 m (5 ft 10 in)[1]
(m. 1963; ann. 1970)
Jeffrey West
(m. 1980; div. 1990)
Parent(s)Frederick Jamieson
Ada Brown

April Ashley MBE (29 April 1935 – 27 December 2021), styled from 1963 to 1970 as The Honourable April Corbett, was an English model, author, and LGBT rights activist. In the 1950s, upon being discharged from the Merchant Navy, she performed under the stage name Toni April at Le Carrousel de Paris in Paris. Ashley was outed as a transgender woman by The Sunday People newspaper in 1961 and was one of the earliest British people known to have had gender confirmation surgery. Her first marriage, to the future 3rd Baron Rowallan, was annulled in the High Court of Justice case of Corbett v Corbett. Ashley was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire in the 2012 Birthday Honours for services to transgender equality.

Early life[edit]

Born at 126 Smithdown Road (then Sefton General 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, at the age of two, when the family moved house.[4]

1950s to 1970s[edit]

Ashley joined the Merchant Navy in 1951 at the age of 16.[5][6] Following a suicide attempt, she was given dishonourable discharge,[4] and a second attempt resulted in her being sent to Ormskirk District General Hospital psychiatric unit at age 17.[6]

In her book The First Lady, Ashley tells the story of the rape she endured before transitioning. A roommate raped her and she was severely injured.[7]

Gender transition[edit]

After leaving the 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 Le Carrousel de Paris.[6][8][page needed]

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.[6][8][page needed]

Modelling career and public outing[edit]

After returning to Britain, she began using the name April Ashley and became a successful fashion model, appearing in British Vogue,[9] for which she was photographed by David Bailey,[10] and winning a small role in the 1962 film The Road to Hong Kong, which starred Bing Crosby and Bob Hope.[8][page needed][11]

A friend sold her story to the media in 1961 and The Sunday People outed Ashley as a trans woman.[12] She became a centre of attention and some scandal and her film credit was dropped.[12][11]

In November 1960 Ashley met Hon. Arthur Corbett (later 3rd Baron Rowallan), the Eton-educated son and heir of Lord Rowallan. They married in 1963 but the marriage soon deteriorated, at which point Ashley claimed to have a romance with Íñigo de Arteaga y Martín, the heir to the Dukedom of the Infantado.[13] 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, but Corbett had known about her history when they married. This is the case known as Corbett v Corbett.[6][8][page needed][10]

Later life and death[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 had once been great friends with Lear[14] but according to Ashley's book The First Lady they had had a major falling out and had not spoken for years.[citation needed]

In the 1980s Ashley married Jeffrey West on the cruise ship RMS Queen Mary in Long Beach, California, US.[15] They subsequently divorced but maintained friendly relations. In the 1990s, Ashley was employed by the environmental lobby group, Greenpeace and later by an art gallery.[13]

She talked about her life at St George's Hall, Liverpool as part of the city's Homotopia Festival on 15 November 2008,[16] and on 18 February 2009 at the Southbank Centre.[17]

Ashley latterly lived in Fulham, southwest London.[11] She died at home on 27 December 2021, at the age of 86.[5][18]


April Ashley's Odyssey, a biography by Duncan Fallowell, was published in 1982.[4] In 2006 Ashley released her autobiography, The First Lady,[7] 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 others.[7] The book was pulled from the market, however, after it was discovered that it heavily plagiarized the 1982 book written by Fallowell.[19]

The 1983 biography of Peter O'Toole by Michael Freedland rejects the claim of an affair with Ashley. It states that he was acquainted with her in Spain while filming, but his then-wife Siân Phillips was with him at the time and knew the relationship to be platonic.[20][page needed]

In 2012 Pacific Films and Limey Yank Productions announced a project to create a film about Ashley's life.[21]

Awards and honours[edit]


  1. ^ "April Ashley - Biography". IMDb. Retrieved 23 January 2023.
  2. ^ Jones, Kay (February 2014). "Radical Objects: April Ashley's Birth Certificate & Birthday Card". History Workshop. Archived from the original on 11 April 2019. Retrieved 24 March 2018.
  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. Archived from the original on 18 November 2019. Retrieved 20 December 2014.
  5. ^ a b Risen, Clay (3 January 2022). "April Ashley, London Socialite and Transgender Pioneer, Dies at 86". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 5 January 2022. Retrieved 6 January 2022.
  6. ^ a b c d e Corbett v Corbett (EWHC 1970), Text.
  7. ^ a b c Thompson, Douglas; Ashley, April (2006). The First Lady. Blake Publishing. ISBN 1-84454-231-9. Archived from the original on 6 January 2022. Retrieved 30 December 2021.
  8. ^ a b c d Gilmore, Stephen; Herring, Jonathan; Probert, Rebecca (2011). Landmark Cases in Family Law. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 978-1849461016.
  9. ^ "Ariel Nicholson Is the First Out Trans Woman On the Cover of US Vogue". www.out.com. 5 August 2021. Archived from the original on 28 December 2021. Retrieved 28 December 2021.
  10. ^ a b "Sex and the single grande dame". The Sydney Morning Herald. 4 June 2005. Archived from the original on 14 January 2011. Retrieved 30 August 2010.
  11. ^ 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 2 April 2018.
  12. ^ a b "'Her' secret is out" (jpg). The Sunday People. 19 November 1961. Archived from the original on 15 November 2021. Retrieved 11 May 2020.
  13. ^ a b "British pioneer transwoman who dated Michael Hutchence". The Sydney Morning Herald. 29 December 2021. Archived from the original on 30 December 2021. Retrieved 30 December 2021.
  14. ^ "At the court of Queen Lear". The Observer. 24 December 2000. Archived from the original on 28 September 2013. Retrieved 17 December 2016.
  15. ^ Obituaries, Telegraph (28 December 2021). "April Ashley, model and actress who became one of Britain's first transwomen to undergo reassignment surgery – obituary". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 28 December 2021. Retrieved 28 December 2021 – via www.telegraph.co.uk.
  16. ^ "An Audience with April Ashley". Homotopia. Archived from the original on 22 August 2009. Retrieved 28 March 2015.
  17. ^ "An Evening With April Ashley at the Southbank Centre". flickr. 19 February 2009. Archived from the original on 29 July 2016. Retrieved 28 March 2015.
  18. ^ "April Ashley, model and actress who became one of the first transwomen to undergo reassignment surgery – obituary". The Telegraph. 28 December 2021. Archived from the original on 28 December 2021. Retrieved 28 December 2021.
  19. ^ "Discriminating Beauty". Out Northwest. p. 23. Archived from the original on 8 October 2012. Retrieved 30 August 2010.
  20. ^ Freedland, Michael (1983). Peter O'Toole: A Biography. W. H. Allen. ISBN 978-0-86379-016-4. Archived from the original on 6 January 2022. Retrieved 3 September 2021.
  21. ^ "Pioneering Trans Model April Ashley Gets Movie Deal, Honor From Queen Elizabeth". Queerty. Archived from the original on 29 July 2012. Retrieved 27 July 2012.
  22. ^ "No. 60173". The London Gazette (Supplement). 16 June 2012. p. 13.
  23. ^ "Kenneth Branagh knighted in Queen's Birthday Honours". BBC News. 16 June 2012. Archived from the original on 21 April 2019. Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  24. ^ "Museum of Liverpool". Archived from the original on 6 July 2015. Retrieved 6 July 2015.
  25. ^ "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.
  26. ^ "April Ashley awarded honorary degree". www.liverpool.ac.uk. University of Liverpool. Archived from the original on 29 December 2021. Retrieved 29 December 2021.

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