London and Paris
April Ashley in 1958. Both photographs courtesy of April Ashley
"I knew from the age dot that I was a girl. My only dreams were about growing up to be a woman." April Ashley
In London April worked at a Lyons Corner House, a bustling cafe and informal, underground meeting point for artists, bohemians and gay men. Being gay or trans was a precarious and illegal life. Homosexuality was not decriminalised until 1967 and trans and gay people faced much discrimination.
Being in London gave April anonymity and the freedom to accept and reveal her true identity. In this supportive environment and with other trans role models around her, she began to call herself 'Toni' and wear female clothes and make-up. It was here in 1956 that she made an invaluable connection that was to take her to Paris and the world famous Carrousel club.
Le Carrousel de Paris was renowned for its spectacular performances by male and female impersonators, which attracted stars such as Ginger Rogers, Claudette Colbert, Marlene Dietrich and Rex Harrison. In stark contrast to post-war England, Paris represented a sexual liberalism, freedom and openness that was previously unimaginable to young April.
She was soon employed at the club and paid £12 per week. Assuming a new identity and using the theatrical name of 'Toni April', she performed alongside famous female impersonators, Coccinelle, Bambi and Peki d'Oslo. Her confidante and closest friend Bambi introduced her to a Parisian doctor who prescribed the female hormone oestrogen which further assisted April’s feminisation. April was soon touring with Le Carrousel across Europe. Whilst in Milan she visited the British Consulate to attempt to change the name on her passport from George Jamieson to 'Toni April' but was met with hostility.