Marie Claire is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission on some of the items you choose to buy.
The actress, model and activist leaves a powerful legacy of what it means to be true to ourselves
Fans have flocked to social media to pay tribute to actress, model and activist April Ashley who has died at 86.
Singer Boy George tweeted: “RIP April Ashley! A force of nature and transgender high priestess!”
Meanwhile, LGBT campaigner Peter Tatchell called her “the GREAT trans trailblazer for decades” and a “hero”.
Born to a working-class family in Liverpool in 1935, April was the second British person ever to undergo male-to-female gender reassignment surgery in 1960.
April had started her working life in the merchant navy, but was sent to a psychiatric unit for mental health support after repeated suicide attempts. She later moved to Paris, where she performed in drag at the Le Carrousel nightclub to save money for her gender reassignment procedure.
April claimed that becoming a woman made her the happiest she had ever been. She went on to model for British Vogue and starred in Road to Hong Kong alongside Joan Collins, but her career was thwarted when the Sunday People newspaper outed her as trans in 1961.
In 1963, April married aristocrat Arthur Cameron Corbett. Their divorce in 1970 marked a landmark legal ruling when the judge ruled that she remained a biological man and therefore the marriage was invalid.
Refusing to let the humiliation defeat her, April rallied and opened a restaurant in Knightsbridge, London, called April and Desmond’s. But the stress and attention generated from the court case led her to have a heart attack in 1975. April left London and ended up living on the US west coast.
Decades later, in 2005, April returned to Britain and was finally legally recognised as female, thanks to the Gender Recognition Act. She was later made an MBE in 2012 for her work campaigning for the transgender community.
Reflecting on her life in an interview, April said: “They were mad, wonderful times. Why not enjoy them? That’s always been my philosophy. I know more than anyone how people can judge, but I also know if you are true to yourself, that’s all that matters.”