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 79)
Liverpool, England
Spouse(s)Arthur Corbett (m. 1963-1970, annulled)
Jeffrey West (m. 1980s - ?)
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April Ashley
An Evening With April Ashley at the Southbank Centre4.jpg
Born(1935-04-29) 29 April 1935 (age 79)
Liverpool, England
Spouse(s)Arthur Corbett (m. 1963-1970, annulled)
Jeffrey West (m. 1980s - ?)

April Ashley, MBE (born on 29 April 1935) is an English model and restaurant hostess. She was one of the first British people to be outed as a transsexual, which was done by the Sunday People in 1961.[1][2][3]

She is also known as one of the first British people to undergo sex reassignment surgery, after racing driver and World War II fighter pilot Roberta Cowell, and the ninth person in the world to have the surgery.[4][5][6]

Early life[edit]

Born George Jamieson on 29 April 1935, in Sefton General Hospital, Liverpool,[7] she was one of six surviving children of a Roman Catholic father and a Protestant mother.[1]

Brought up in Liverpool,[8] she had suffered from calcium deficiency and required weekly calcium injections at the Alder Hey Children's Hospital.[1] Because she wet the bed she was given her own box room aged two when the family moved house.[7]

She joined the Merchant Navy at the age of 14.[9] She had under-developed genitalia and by the age of 15 she had not developed secondary sexual characteristics. She attempted suicide after returning home from the Merchant Navy; given a dishonourable discharge, she was sent to the mental institution in Ormskirk for electric shock treatment.[1][8] 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 sexual assault.

Gender transition[edit]

Ashley was allowed out of the hospital and she moved to London in 1950, at one point sharing a boarding house with then ship's steward John Prescott. Having started cross-dressing, she moved to Paris in the 1950s and using the name April E became a faux queen.[8] She joined the cast of the cabaret show at the Carousel Theatre, with the famous French entertainer Coccinelle.

At the age of 25 and having saved £3,000, Ashley had a seven-hour long gender reassignment surgery on 12 May 1960,[8] in Casablanca, Morocco performed by Dr. Georges Burou.[10] All her hair fell out and she endured significant pain, but the operation was successful.[8]

Model, scandal[edit]

After returning to Britain, Ashley became a successful fashion model, appearing in such publications as Vogue (photographed by David Bailey[9]) and winning a small role in the film The Road to Hong Kong, which starred Bing Crosby and Bob Hope.[1]

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.[1]

In 1963 she wed Hon. Arthur Corbett (later 3rd Baron Rowallan), the Eton-educated son and heir of Lord Rowallan, who enjoyed cross-dressing.[1] However, in 1970 Corbett had the marriage annulled on the grounds that Ashley had been born male,[1] even though he knew about her history when they married.[2][9][11]

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 born male as Alain Tapp and they had worked together at Le Carousel where Lear had used the name Peki d'Oslo.[12] Ashley was once great friends with Lear,[13] 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.[14]

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.[8]

Most recently Ashley gave talks on her life at St George's Hall in Liverpool as part of the city's Homotopia festival on 15 November 2008,[15] and on 18 February 2009 at the South Bank Centre.[16]

At present Ashley lives on her own in Fulham, West London.[1]

Ashley was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2012 Birthday Honours for services to transgender equality.[17][18]


April Ashley's Odyssey, a biography by Duncan Fallowell, was published in 1982.[19] 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 details of her 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 after it was discovered that it had heavily plagiarized the 1982 book on Ashley.[20] Most of the actors mentioned as being lovers of Ashley have denied the truth of these allegations.

There is currently a film being produced by Pacific Films and Limey Yank Productions about April Ashley's life.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Durrant, Sabine (22 August 2010). "April Ashley interview: Britain's first transsexual". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 22 September 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-30. 
  2. ^ a b Stanford, Peter (24 November 2009). "April Ashley 50 happy years for sex-swap pioneer". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2010-08-30. 
  3. ^ The first was arguably trans man Michael Dillon in 1958 by the Daily Express.
  4. ^ "April Ashley: the first Briton to undergo a sex change". The Independent. 2 February 2006. Retrieved 2010-08-30. 
  5. ^ Morris, Matthew (27 November 2009). "A woman ahead of her time". bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 2010-08-30. 
  6. ^ Warren, Jane (28 July 2000). "Forty years after my sex change I'm still treated as a joke". The Daily Express. Retrieved 2010-08-30. [dead link]
  7. ^ a b Ashley, April. "My Odyssey - Chapter One". AprilAshley.com. Archived from the original on 7 June 2010. Retrieved 2010-05-23. [dead link]
  8. ^ a b c d e f Johnston, Jenny (3 June 2006). "How Prescott made a woman out of me". Mail online. Retrieved 2010-05-23. 
  9. ^ a b c "Sex and the single grande dame". The Sydney Morning Herald. 4 June 2005. Retrieved 2010-08-30. 
  10. ^ "Georges Burou, M.D.". Retrieved 2010-05-23. 
  11. ^ "CORBETT v CORBETT (otherwise ASHLEY) (1969)". 
  12. ^ Chapter 4:Paris;April Ashley's Odyssey; Duncan Fallowell & April Ashley Jonathan Cape, London, 1982 ISBN 0-224-01849-3
  13. ^ "At the court of Queen Lear". The Observer. 24 December 2000. Retrieved 2010-08-30. 
  14. ^ Identity - April Ashley's US Resident Alien identification card - Wellcome Collection
  15. ^ "An Audience with April Ashley". Homotopia. Retrieved 2010-08-30. [dead link]
  16. ^ "An Evening With April Ashley at the Southbank Centre". flickr. Retrieved 2010-08-30. 
  17. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 60173. p. 13. 16 June 2012.
  18. ^ "Kenneth Branagh knighted in Queen's Birthday Honours". BBC News. 16 June 2012. Retrieved 2012-06-16. 
  19. ^ http://www.antijen.org/Aprilv1/
  20. ^ "Discriminating Beauty". Out Northwest. p. 23. Retrieved 2010-08-30. 
  21. ^ "Pioneering Trans Model April Ashley Gets Movie Deal, Honor From Queen Elizabeth". Queerty. Retrieved 2012-07-27. 


External links[edit]