Life after surgery

April and Arthur sitting on deckchairs

April and Arthur Corbett with Blue the dog

"The first occasion on which a court in England has been called upon to decide the sex of an individual." Mr Justice Ormrod February 1970  

High profile career

Following gender reassignment surgery in 1960 April returned to London and changed her name to 'April Ashley' by deed poll. With her statuesque good looks and new found confidence she became a fashion model and actress. She was photographed for high profile publications such as Vogue and socialised with famous musicians, actors and members of London's high society.

In 1961 April met and began an affair with Arthur Corbett, an Eton-educated aristocrat. Corbett had frequented Le Carrousel and was fully aware of April's history and gender re-assignment.  Corbett left his wife and four children to begin a relationship with April.  


On Sunday November 19 1961 April Ashley was outed as a transsexual in the Sunday People newspaper, prompting numerous other headlines around the world. The press coverage of April's gender transition was hostile and transphobic, portraying her in an inhuman way.  April was humiliated and shocked by the unexpected revelations. Her modelling assignments soon stopped. 

"After my outing I never worked in this country again." April Ashley

Portrait photo of April Ashley

April Ashley modelling in London, 1964 © Vic Singh / Rex Features


In 1963 April married Arthur Corbett in Gibraltar, but the relationship soon  broke down and April returned to London. Corbett petitioned for divorce in 1967 using the grounds that April was born male and therefore the marriage was illegal. The medical and legal position on transsexuality was divided, no consensus on whether a person could legally change gender could be reached and it was left to the divorce court to decide. This proved to be a test case which continues to have implications for people throughout the world today.

Corbett v Corbett

In February 1970 the case of Corbett v Corbett was heard and  became universally known as the divorce case which set a legal precedent regarding the status of transsexuals in the whole country. 

The judge Lord Justice Ormrod, created a medical 'test' and definition to determine the legal status of April, and by extension, all transsexual people. This was a huge personal setback to April, who suffered intrusive tests and more derogatory press attention. The judge ruled in February 1971 that "she was male" and the marriage was annulled. This ruling became a legal precedent used to define the gender of transsexual people for decades. The legal status of transgender people has only been fully recognised since the introduction of the Gender Recognition Act 2004.