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First sex-change Briton

ONCE a top Vogue model, April Ashley was born George Jamieson, in Smithdown Road Maternity Hospital, Liverpool, in 1935.

His was a poor working class home with a Protestant mother and a Roman Catholic father. Moved to better council accommodation at Teynham Crescent, Norris Green, the family kept coal in the bath to stop it being stolen.

He became the first Briton and only the ninth man in the world to undergo the then highly-risky sex-change operation, carried out in Casablanca in 1960. She has only officially been classified as a woman since 2004 following a law change.

April says: "I had to change my name by deed poll. I chose my new name because I was born in April. People kept on saying to me 'You're so bloody English' and I thought I wanted a very English name and every county has a town or village called Ashley."

The operation was a success and she returned to London where she rapidly became a top photographic model, especially for lingerie. Then an acquaintance sold her story to the national press in 1961 and her career collapsed.

Taken in by the bohemian upper set, she was soon a fixture of the Swinging Sixties, carousing with stars like Rock Hudson and Ava Gardner, the Rolling Stones, John Lennon and Kenneth Tynan. She numbered Omar Sharif among her many high-profile lovers, but although she slept with his Lawrence of Arabia co-star they were "not intimate," she says. She also met Albert Einstein, but even the world's brainiest man couldn't decide if she was man or woman.

After an ill-fated marriage to the Scottish aristocrat, the Hon Arthur Cameron Corbett, the cross-dressing heir to Lord Rowallan (who was the Governor of Tasmania and Chief Boy Scout), she was subject to a humiliating divorce in 1970. After medics poked and prodded her, the judge declared she was biologically a man and the marriage was null and void. She received no alimony and suffered a nervous breakdown.

She then crashed Oxford University society and a contemporary recalls: "She was promiscuous and bedded men who are now generals, judges and MPs."

Eventually April left her London high life after suffering a heart attack and that familiar model's malaise "exhaustion", retreating to Wales, California and now France. But she still had enough oomph, she claims, to bed the late rock musician Michael Hutchence, of INXS, when she was 47 and he was 22.

Her latest biographer, Douglas Thompson, believes she is an incredible survivor. He says: "April has been involved in several landmarks, her sex-change and the legal case over her marriage.

"This new book allows her a great deal more mature reflection on her life. If it becomes a film its impact will make it today's equivalent of The Naked Civil Servant.

"She is one of the last links with high Victorian society and she knew everyone that was anyone in London during the 1960s. Her life has an amazing cast of characters."

* THE First Lady, by April Ashley and Douglas Thompson, will be published by John Blake in April.

 
 

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