Transgender trailblazer, model April Ashley, dies aged 86

April Ashley

British model, actor and author April Ashley passed away on 27th December, she was 86 years old.

Ashely was outed by the British press in 1961 when they revealed she was a transgender woman, she is one of the earliest people in British people to undergo gender reassignment surgery.

In her early twenties Ashley moved to Paris and began performing in drag cabaret. She managed to save up the money to undergo gender reassignment surgery and in 1960 travelled to Morocco for the operation.

Returning to Britain she began working as a fashion model and was photographed by David Bailey for British Vogue, she also made an appearance in the film The Road to Hong Kong which starred Bing Crosby and Bob Hope.

A friend sold her story to the tabloid press, and she outed as being transgender in 1961.

Prior to being outed she had met Arthur Corbett, who later became the 3rd Baron Rowallan. The couple married in 1963 but it did not last long. In 1966 her lawyers wrote to her husband demanding maintenance payments, and he moved to have the marriage annulled on the basis that Ashley was male – even though he was aware of this when the couple wed.

The court’s 1970 decision, which ruled that as a transgender woman Ashley should still be considered a male in regards to the marriage act, had a significant impact on transgender people in the following decades. The precedent guided legal decisions until 2004 when the law was changed.

Ashely shared her story in a 2006 autobiography, in it she claimed to have had affairs with INXS singer Michael Hutchence, actor Omar Sharif, artist Grayson Perry, actor Peter O’Toole and others. The book was pulled for distribution when it was revealed that it had plagiarized an earlier biography written about the author.

In 2012 Ashley was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for her services to transgender equality. She passed away in her home in Fulham, South West London on December 27th, aged 86.

OIP Staff

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