British transgender activist and icon April Ashley MBE has passed away aged 86.

Liverpool-born Ashley  was the second person in British history to ever have male-to-female gender affirmation surgery. 

After saving up enough money for the procedure by performing in the Parisian nightclub Le Carrousel, she travelled in 1960 aged 25 to Casablanca in Morocco to have the operation that she claimed, according to the Guardian, “made her the happiest she had ever been.” 

Warning: This story discusses attempts to die by suicide and might be distressing to some readers. For 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For Australia-wide LGBTQI peer support call QLife on 1800 184 527 or webchat.

Actor, Model, LGBTQI Advocate

In 2012, the Queen awarded Ashley a Member of the Order of the British Empire – also known as an MBE – for her services to the transgender community. She was not only an LGBTQI advocate. She was also an actor, model and author, and had been featured in Vogue with photographs by David Bailey.

Trans writer, director and actor, Jake Graf tweeted: “A true trailblazer of the trans community has left us. April Ashley MBE was the definition of grace and humility, despite having fought hard throughout her life for her place in society. A true queen. Gone, but never forgotten. Rest in power.” 

Pop star Boy George tweeted: “R.I.P April Ashley! A force of nature and transgender high priestess!” Winner of Season 1 of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK, the Vivienne posted on Instagram: “Rest in peace. April Ashley. A true icon.” 

Six Weeks Of Electric Shock Treatment

British LGBTQIA+ magazine Attitude interviewed her in 2015. She spoke to them about some of the hardships she experienced during her adolescence: “I had to go through six weeks of electric shock treatment as a teenager, which in those days was very primitive. Your eyeballs bled.”

Ashley came from a working-class family in Liverpool, and in her teens, she joined the navy. She had a brief stay in a psychiatric hospital following several suicide attempts, and moved to London in 1955 before heading to Paris.


After she had her gender reassignment surgery, she returned to England where she was recognised as female on formal documents.

She went on to have a successful career as an actor and model until 1961 when the Sunday People revealed she was transgender.

Marriage, Divorce and USA

April Ashley (right) with husband Arthur Corbett.

Ashley married an aristocrat, Arthur Cameron Corbett in Gibraltar in 1963. When they divorced in 1970, the judge deemed their marriage invalid due to English law stating that it was impossible for a Briton to change their sex. 

Ashley was left penniless and couldn’t get any more gigs as a live performer because her employers didn’t want a transgender person working for them. This forced her to escape to the US west coast where she lived without having to deal with discrimination or prejudice.

It was there she reportedly had affairs with actors like Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif. Elvis Presley was also supposed to have been “besotted” with her according to The Mirror. He would send her bottles of champagne for many years.


For 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention call Lifeline on 13 11 14

For Australia-wide LGBTQI peer support call QLife on 1800 184 527 or webchat.




© Star Observer 2022 | For the latest in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTIQ) news in Australia, be sure to visit daily. You can also read our latest magazines or Join us on our Facebook page and Twitter feed.