London party

April Ashley, London Socialite and Transgender Pioneer, dies at 86

Back in Liverpool, she went to a mental hospital, where she begged doctors to “make me more manly,” she wrote in a first-person account for News of the World in 1961. They treated her with medication and electroconvulsive therapy. “It went on for a year,” she recalls, “and at the end of the day they told me it was no good.”

Unwelcome at home, she moved to London, where she began to dress as a woman. While on vacation in France, she met a group of dragsters, which got her a job as a dancer at the Carrousel, a famous Parisian nightclub.

At the time, Ms Ashley was taking estrogen and saving for her bridging surgery. In 1960, with a reference letter from Coccinelle, a Carrousel dancer and the first known French person to make the transition, she traveled to Casablanca, Morocco. There she met Dr Georges Burou, a gynecologist who pioneered gender transition techniques.

The operation lasted seven hours. Mrs Ashley recalled that just before sinking, Dr Burou said: ‘Good bye, sir. When she woke up, he greeted her with a “Hello Miss”.

She returned to London, where she registered in government as a woman under the name April Ashley. Her stunning looks and background as a dancer allowed her to make her way into the fashion world in London, and she quickly became a lingerie model for some of Britain’s top designers. She also began playing in a small role in “The Road to Hong Kong”, the last of Bob Hope-Bing Crosby’s “Road” films, released in 1962.

But her fledgling career was cut short in 1961 when a friend sold the Mrs Ashley story to a British tabloid. Six months of modeling contracts immediately dried up and the film’s producers cut her name from the credits.