REX / Geoff Pugh

Legendary LGBTQ+ figure and trans rights trailblazer April Ashely has passed away at 86.

The Liverpool native first began her impactful journey as a model, actress and activist in the mid-1950s. After serving in the Merchant Navy, April moved to London and Paris.

During her stay in Paris, she captured audiences as a performer at the famous Le Carrousel nightclub.

In 1960, April became one of the first trans individuals to undergo gender reassignment surgery. She was the ninth patient of Dr Georges Burou to receive the groundbreaking procedure at the time.

Following her recovery, April went on to become one of London’s most in-demand models.

She often graced the pages of Vogue and was photographed by some of the industry’s most prominent photographers like Richard Dormer, David Bailey and Terry Donovan.

Unfortunately, her career suffered a massive blow when the Sunday People publication outed her as a transgender woman.

In a previous interview with ECHO, April revealed that her burgeoning mainstream career was permanently sidelined.

“My career was destroyed, and apart from jobs where you were paid under the table, I never worked again,” she told the publication.

“With others, when they found out, my shifts would be changed, my hours reduced, and then they would tell me they didn’t need me… but then advertise for someone else. It was heartbreaking because I would have been a movie star.”

In 1963, she married the eldest son of Lord Rowallan Auther Cameron Corbett. The marriage ended after 14 days and resulted in a high profile annulment case.


April Ashley Le Carrousel on tour 1959

After experiencing multiple roadblocks, she soon found herself battling bouts of depression.

Following the aftermath, April brushed off the negative press and soon found herself travelling across the UK, France and the US.

She later returned to England and in 2005 was finally issued a new birth certificate that aligned with her gender identity under the Gender Recognition Act.

Over the years, April has been acknowledged for her outstanding achievements and activism.

In 2012 she was awarded an MBE for her activism for the transgender community. Two years later she was gifted the Lifetime Achievement Award at the European Diversity Awards.

April was also the recipient of the 2017 Roberta Cowell GAY TIMES Honour award.

At the time, the legendary figure delivered an inspirational acceptance speech that still rings true today.

“Well, I hope they remember me kindly,” April said. “I really don’t know. I don’t even think I care very much about what people think once you’ve gone.

“I’ve always said, you know, that the three things is to be kind to both yourself and to other people; and be beautiful inside and out because if you’re beautiful inside then you’re beautiful out. I say be bloody brave because you will need it.”

April added: “One of the things I found out about the trans community, most of them anyhow, they all have a good sense of humour – and I think that gets them through a lot of nonsense.”