Trailblazer, model and activist April Ashley dies aged 86

April Ashley
Main Image: By Loz Pycock - Flickr

April Ashley died this week aged 86. One of the first Brits to undergo gender confirmation surgery, a court later annulled her marriage to the son of the Chief Scout of the British Commonwealth and former Governor of Tasmania. A newspaper outed the model and actress as a transgender woman in 1961.

April Ashley joined the merchant navy as a 15-year-old. However, after suicide attempts caused by mental anguish, she moved to Paris in the early fifties.

In Paris, she performed as a drag queen at the famous Le Carrousel nightclub. While working at the club, she saved £3000 to pay for gender confirmation surgery. She underwent the 7-hour operation in Casablanca in 1960.

Returning to England following the surgery, April Ashley began a modelling career. Photographed for Vogue magazine, she also appeared in films including Road to Hong Kong with Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Joan Collins.


Her career ended in 1961 when the Sunday People outed her as transgender.

That did not stop Arthur Corbett, later Baron Rowallan, marrying April in 1963 at Gibraltar.

The year before he told a newspaper that he met his then-future bride before her outing and it never worried him.

“It will be the proudest moment of my life if I can present April to my father as my wife. I look on her as the most perfect woman I have ever known. She is a sweet and wonderful person.”

However, the marriage did not last. Despite the groom obviously knowing April Ashley’s history before their wedding, a court annulled the marriage after declaring the bride male.

Following the annulment, April Ashley emigrated to the US and only returned to Britain following the 2004 Gender Recognition Act.

April Ashley received an MBE in 2012 for her work for the transgender community.

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