Born George Jamison on the 29th April 1935 to a Liverpudlian Catholic and protestant mixed family he faced years of bullying at school for his effeminate good looks and at the age of 14 he decided that to become more masculine he would join the Merchant Navy. Georges secondary sexual characteristics did not develop so again he faced the bullies and eventually he attempted to take his own life. The Merchant Navy dishonourably discharged him shortly afterwards. In the hard times that followed he attempted suicide again and was also committed to a mental institution where he was subjected to electric shock treatment among other “treatments” of the time.
In 1950 he was released from Ormskirk institution and moved to London where at one point he shared a room with a ship steward called John Prescott who later became the Deputy Prime Minister of Britain. In her book “The First Lady” she also tells of another room mate who raped him causing severe injury as a result. Later in the 1950’s he moved to Paris using the name April E and became a successful Drag Artist. She joined the cast of the cabaret show at the Carousel Theatre, with the famous French entertainer Coccinelle.
Aged 25 George had saved £3000 went to Casablanca to see Dr Georges Burou (the wizard of Casablanca) to be the first ever British person to have gender reassignment surgery. All of her hair fell out as a result of the treatments and she was in unbearable pain but the operation was successful and April Ashley was born. On her return to England she became a successful model making appearances in the likes of Vogue and also getting a role in a movie starring Bob Hope and Bing Crosby called The Road to Hong Kong. She was known at the time to have romantic friendships with Omar Sharif, Peter o’ Toole and later in her 50’s Michael Hutchence from inxs just as he was finding fame. She also attracted the amorous attentions of Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso.
In 1961 a supposed “friend” sold her story to a newspaper and was then outed very publicly as a Transsexual in the Sunday People bringing about an abrupt end to her success. She became a celebrity ‘freak’ but her notoriety didn’t stop her marrying into the aristocracy. In 1963 she wed Arthur Corbett, the Eton-educated son and heir of Lord Rowallan. When they met Corbett was already married with four children and had a penchant for dressing up as a woman himself. He eventually left his wife and April moved into the highest echelons of British society before the marriage collapsed. It became one of the most talked about events of the decade with details of the case exploding over the newspapers. The couple faced each other in the courtroom, with Corbett claiming the union should be annulled on the grounds that Ashley had been born a man and the marriage had never been legally sound. The court agreed, setting a precedent which left transsexuals in gender limbo in the eyes of the law. That ruling negatively influenced the rights of all transgender peoples under western law for the next 30+ years.
Following a hard fought campaign, April was finally able to legally call herself a woman in 2004, when the Government’s introduced the Gender Recognition Act. It was not until 2005 that she was granted a new birth certificate, asserting that she was born female – with the help of old housemate John Prescott she says: ‘He was ever so supportive… he and his wife still send me Christmas cards.’
On the 16 June 2012 April was awarded the MBE for services to Transgender equality. She now lives alone in Fulham, West London.