back to top

April Ashley: The Vogue Model Who Became A Transgender Icon

Born in the 1935 slums of Liverpool, April Ashley was one of the first people to undergo gender reassignment surgery at a time when it was nearly unheard of. A secret that would eventually derail her modeling career amid public scandal.

Posted on

April Ashley’s life is the focus of a new exhibition at The Museum Of Liverpool.

Steve Ezell / Via

April Ashley: Portrait of a Lady will depict April’s "very public story" and "investigate the wider impact of changing social and legal conditions for all trans and lesbian, gay and bisexual people."


In 1953, after a suicide attempt, she was sent to Ormskirk Hospital's psychiatric unit for treatment.

She endured a year of male hormones, sodium pentothal injections , and shock therapy before they finally released her from the hospital.

In the 1950s, now dressing as a woman and using the name April E, she moved to Paris and found work at one of the city's most expensive night clubs.

The famous Parisian club, La Carousel, was frequented by famous socialites and Hollywood's superstars.

In an interview with The Telegraph, she described her decision to have, what was then regarded as, an incredibly controversial gender reassignment surgery.

I knew by then that I would kill myself if I didn't have it. So when I had the money I wrote to Dr Borou and he said, 'Please come over when you want.' When I saw him, he said, 'Why would a beautiful girl like you want to become a man?' I said, 'No, no, Dr Borou – it's the other way round.'"


As suddenly as she found success, it all came crashing down.


The marriage derailed with an extremely public and brutal divorce trial.

Corbett petitioned for divorce in 1967 on the grounds that April was born male and therefore the marriage was actually illegal. The judge stated that she was "not a woman for the purposes of marriage."

The museum exhibition will run for a full year.

Twitter: @Rebecca_Keegan

The exhibtion has been funded with a £78,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and curated by Homotopia. The April Ashley Project is also producing a film on her extraordinary life.

Learn more:

View this video on YouTube


Every. Tasty. Video. EVER. The new Tasty app is here!