Brought to you by Pistol Pete
April Ashley lived the extravagant life of an aspiring European model and actress during the 1950's and 1960's. Looks and talent aside, Ashley is most remembered for her legacy as one of the world's first openly transsexual individuals.
On April 25th, 1935, Ashley was born George Jamieson. After an unhappy childhood in Liverpool as one of six children of a Roman Catholic father and a Protestant mother, Jamieson moved to Paris in the 1950s and joined the cast of the cabaret show at the Carousel Theater with the famous French entertainer Coccinelle.
Jamieson had an early sex reassignment procedure in 1960 in Casablanca, Morocco under Dr Georges Burou. She was only the seventh person to receive sex reassignment surgery from Dr. Burou, and the doctor warned Jamieson that the procedure could even result in death, but Jamieson pressed ahead with the operation. Ashley has said that despite the pain following the procedure, "I knew the pinnacle of happiness, a joy beyond words".
After returning to England, Ashley became a successful fashion model, appearing in such publications as Vogue and winning a small role in the film The Road to Hong Kong, which starred Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. Her credit, however, was dropped from the film after she was outed as transsexual by the Sunday People in 1961.
She married Hon. Arthur Corbett in 1963, but the marriage did not last. In 1970 Corbett (later 3rd Baron Rowallan) successfully had the marriage annulled on the grounds that Ashley had been born male, which set the precedent for the legal status of transsexuals in the United Kingdom until the UK Gender Recognition Act 2004 came into force. Since she was publicly outted as a transexual, April has become the subject of much prejudice from the UK government. In her own words, "Britain is the most civilised country on Earth, but so backward about sex. I still love my country - I grew up in Liverpool during the war when it was being bombed flat - and my heart will always be British, but the Government has condemned me to being a freak who lives in exile."
In 1975, after a massive heart attack, April retreated to Hay-on-Wye on the Welsh border where she lived for 11 years with her dog Flora, before small legacies from two locals allowed her to move to the warmer, more liberal France, Spain and finally America's West Coast. In a recent interview Ashley commented that, "If I had my time over, I would certainly become a woman again, but I wouldn't marry. I'd become a successful film star and I'd sail round the world because I've always thought that just over the horizon there is something marvelous waiting for me."
Most recently April gave talks on her life at St Georges Hall Liverpool on 15 November 2008. Details of this evening can be found at the Gender Trust website. and on 18 February 2009 at the South Bank Centre.
Thank you April Ashley for a truely inspirational life!