April Ashley: who was transgender model, when is documentary on Channel 4, was she married - and film credits

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The life of a woman who was one of the first people in Britain to have gender reassignment surgery is to be celebrated in a special documentary.

April Ashley faced lots of prejudice when she began her transitioning journey in 1960, but has been an icon for transgender people ever since.

She died in December 2021, and now a biographical 65 minute documentary will tell Ashley’s life story and feature contributions from people who knew her best.

So, who was April Ashley, what was she most well known for and how can you watch the documentary about her?

Here’s everything you need to know.

The life of the late April Ashley will be celebrated in a documentary called The Extraordinary Life of April Ashley. She was given an MBE in 2012.The life of the late April Ashley will be celebrated in a documentary called The Extraordinary Life of April Ashley. She was given an MBE in 2012.
The life of the late April Ashley will be celebrated in a documentary called The Extraordinary Life of April Ashley. She was given an MBE in 2012.

Who was April Ashley?

April Ashley was born George Jamieson in 1935 in Liverpool.

She campaigned to be legally recognised as female and paved the way for those who wished to follow her and transition from one gender to another.

She became one of the first people in Britain known to have gender reassignment surgery.

The surgery took place in Casablanca, Morocco, in 1960 when Ashley was aged £25 and cost £3,000.

After returning to Britain, she began using the name April Ashley and became a successful fashion model, appearing in British Vogue.

As well as being a model, she was also an actress and author.

In 1961, however,  she was outed as transgender by by The Sunday People newspaper in 1961 and her acting credits were dropped due to the scandal.

She did not let that stop her achieving, however, and opened a restaurant in London. April and Desmonds, or AD8, was opened in March 1970 in Knightsbridge, just down from Harrods.

She became known as one of London’s most glamorous hostesses and she regularly featured in newspapers and spent time with celebrities and well-known figures.

She was interviewed about her 23 inch waist, her taste for citrus colours, her beehive, tailored pants and sequined Biba dresses.

She suffered a heart attack in 1975 and retired. In the early 1990s, she worked for Greenpeace before taking a job in an art gallery.

She talked about her life at St George’s Hall, Liverpool as part of the city’s LQBTQ+ Homotopia Festival on 15 November 2008, and on 18 February 2009 at the Southbank Centre.

Later in her life, she moved to Fulham, South London, and died in her home on 27 December 2021 at the age of 86.

Was April Ashley married?

In November 1960 Ashley met Hon. Arthur Corbett, who later became third Baron Rowallan, who was the Eton-educated son and heir of Lord Rowallan.

They married in 1963 but the marriage soon ended.

Ashley’s lawyers wrote to Corbett in 1966 demanding maintenance payments and in 1967 Corbett responded by filing suit to have the marriage annulled.

The annulment was granted in 1970 on the grounds that Ashley was male, but Corbett had known about her history when they married.

The case became known as Corbett v Corbett.

In the 1980s Ashley married Jeffrey West on the cruise ship RMS Queen Mary in Long Beach, California. They broke up but remained friends.

What films was April Ashley in?

In 1960, Ashley won a small role in the film The Road to Hong Kong, which starred Bing Crosby and Bob Hope and was released in 1962.

She also appeared on several TV shows throughout her life to talk about her experiences. Most recently, she was on ITV chat show Loose Women in 2015.

Why was April Ashley given an MBE?

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

The annual Birthday Honour awards recognise people who have made achievements in public life and committed themselves to serving and helping Britain.

The honours usually coincide with the Queen’s official birthday in June.

When is the documentary about April Ashley on TV?

The one-off documentary, called The Extraordinary Life of April Ashley, is on Channel 4 between 10pm and 11.05pm on Monday 4 July.

It will be available to watch on Channel 4 catch-up service, All4, shortly after broadcast.