Saturday, July 9th, 2022

The Extraordinary Life of April Ashley


This very affectionate profile on the actress/model April Ashley is long overdue as is evident in how her star quality simply shines through so bright on the screen.. April’s complicated roller-coaster life would have defeated any lesser person but since she somehow survived being born into a poor working-class Catholic family in 1935 in one of Liverpool rougher areas, nothing seem to faze her.  Well. outwardly at least

Born a very effeminate boy named George who got himself more than a few beatings for insisting he was really a girl.  When George was 16 he joined the Merchant Navy to escape home but there was no release from all the taunting and bullying.  Following a suicide attempt, he was given a dishonorable discharge, and then a second attempt resulted in being sent to Ormskirk District General Hospital psychiatric unit at age 17.

London followed and a chance to start cross-dressing, and finally April was borne. But it was later in Paris where she became part of the cast of the famous drag Le Carrousel Club that her life really started. Performing there gave her a chance to save up enough money to fly to Casablanca to have sex realignment surgery …. in those day this was not for the fainthearted as she was only the doctor’s 9th patient.

April is a very beautiful woman and soon morphs into being a top fashion model in London.  In the late 1950s this was not just a glamourous career but one that was full of aristocratic upper-class young women,  But by then all trace of her working-class Liverpool brogue had disappeared and Ashley now spoke with a refined posh accent. Her friend Simon Callow the actor once asked her if her family spoke like this ….she coyly said she couldn’t remember!

Then one Sunday, April’s life almost blew up in her face when a so-called friend outed her as a trans woman to a tabloid newspaper…… all for derisory £5.  It may have thrown her off balance for a wee while, but just two years later she married Hon. Arthur Corbett (later 3rd Baron Rowallan)

It was when this marriage failed, instead of filing for divorce, Corbett sued for an annulment on the grounds of April’s gender at birth even though he was totally aware of her situation.  When the medical experts reported back to the Trial Judge confirming Ashley’s claim, he rejected their report and sent them back to reconsider …..i.e. agree with his bigoted and biased view.  

April may have lost her case in court but she remained dignified moving on with her life like the winner she always portrayed.

The documentary’s filmmaker included an impressive list of talking heads consisting mainly of April’s friends such as Boy George, Paul O’Grady, Simon Callow, Grayson Perry (who she even dated for a while) and even the legendary Bambi from the Carrousel Club.   I can’t recall who actually said it, even though the law may refuse to recognize April as a woman, this charismatic person full of life, was every inch a lady.

Constantly reinventing her life, next up was a very fashionable restaurant in London’s Kensington called AD8 which April opened with her friend Desmond  Morgan and which I frequented as I was finally coming out of the closet.  April was the most glamorous host who greeted every guest so warmly but unknown to us each night with her taste for expensive champagne she was drinking all the profits away.

Preston saw fit to edit April’s story probably because of the short running time, so there is no mention of her second marriage to Jeffery West in the 1980’s.  But Preston did include one of the most vital parts of April’s later life, when thanks to some nudging by Simon Callow, she was awarded an MBE in 2012 for her services to the Transgender Community. It was an amazing about face by the Establishment that had cruelly rejected her all those years ago.  Evidently, when she was presented with the Award by Prince Charles in Buckingham Palace  he commented to April that it had been a long time coming.

April Ashley had never set to be a role model or a pioneer but she became both and with such grace and dignity that we (queer Brits) will always remember with great affection and our heartfelt thanks.


P.S. The documentary is screening 

you will need a VPN to view this from outside the UK




Review : Roger Walker-Dack

Editor in Chief : Queerguru 
Member of G.A.L.E.C.A. (Gay & Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association) and NLGJA The Association of LGBT 
Journalists. and The Online Film Critics Society. Ex Contributung Editor The Gay Uk & Contributor Edge Media 
Former CEO and Menswear Designer of  Roger Dack Ltd in the UK    
one of the hardest-working journalists in the business' Michael Goff of Towleroad


Posted by queerguru  at  12:36

Genres:  documentary

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