April Ashley: who was the transgender pioneer and when is the documentary on her life coming out?

The Extraordinary life of April Ashley will premier on television tonight.

The documentary on the life of the iconic transgender model April Ashley will premier tonight (Monday 4 July)

The activist who became a pioneer for her work with the LGBTQ community fighting for equality, rose to fame from poverty and became one of London’s most famous socialites.

Alongside her activism, she was a successful model and was featured in publications such as Vogue.

April Ashley holds her Member of the British Empire (MBE) medal. Image: Sean Dempsey - WPA Pool/Getty Images

She partied with John Lennon and Mick Jagger, and was wooed by Elvis Presley.

So, when can viewers catch the documentary about her extraordinary life?

Here’s everything you need to know.

Who was April Ashley?

She was born in Liverpool in 1935, and her early life was harrowing.

April ended up checking herself into a mental hospital, and wrote accounts of her time there for News of the World in 1961.

She wrote that she begged doctors to “make me more manly”, where she was subjected to drugs and electroshock therapy for a year.

After leaving the mental hospital, she ended up working as a dancer in Paris nightclub Le Carrousel, after meeting drag performers while on holiday in France.

She was one of the first British people known to have had sex reassignment surgery.

Ashley was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire in the 2012 Birthday Honours for her services to transgender equality.

She was interviewed in 2008 by the Liverpool Daily Post, and asked about her experiences, to which she responded: “I always say three things.

“Be beautiful, be kind — to yourself and others — and most of all be brave. Chins up — get on with life and be as brave as you can.”

The pioneer passed away at the age of 86 on 27 December 2021.

When is the ‘The Extraordinary life of April Ashley’ on TV?

The documentary entited ‘The Extraordinary life of April Ashley’ will premier on Channel 4 at 10pm on Monday 4 July.

The synopsis of the documentary reads: ‘From wartime Liverpool slums to London’s high society, the epic story of the model, dancer, and transgender pioneer who changed Britain.’

What was April Ashley’s career like?

After undergoing surgery, she returned to London where she slipped into the fashion world with ease, modelling with Britain’s top designer.

She also began acting, with small roles in The Road to Hong Kong.

However, her career was cut short when the Sunday People newspaper outed her as a transgender woman in 1961.

As people began to turn their backs on her she moved to Spain, where attitudes were more relaxed and she could continue modelling.

She married Arthur Corbett, the son of Thomas Corbett, the second Baron Rowallan, which thrust her into the spotlight again with a publicised divorce, which led to the famous Corbett v. Corbett case.

After suing Corbett for failing to pay her a stipend, he counter-sued for an annulment.

The case went on for three years and the judge ruled against Ashley that despite her surgery, she was “at all times a man,” and that marriage between two men was impossible.

Ms Ashley was resilient, and went on to open a popular restaurant in London where she worked the door.

While it was still dangerous to be transgender, life had improved significantly since she left 25 years ago.

She lectured at Oxford university, released a memoir, The First Lady, and was the subject of a yearlong museum exhibition in Liverpool.

Her work went on to make a lasting impact.