A special commemoration service will take place in Liverpool this week to remember and celebrate inspirational trans-pioneer, April Ashley.
The private event takes place on Thursday at St George’s Hall and will see the Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Cllr Roy Gladden, and Assistant Mayor, Councillor Harry Doyle, join some of April’s closest friends and family who will share fond memories and pay tribute to the extraordinary life of the model, actress and restaurateur who died last December.
Those in attendance will include April’s lifelong friend Peter Maddock who will share a number of video messages including one from the film director and Hairspray creator, John Waters, her second husband Jeff West, Professor Fiona Beveridge, Executive Pro Vice Chancellor, University of Liverpool who made April an Honorary Doctor of Laws in 2016 and Janet Dugdale, Director of Museums, National Museums Liverpool will also pay tribute to April’s significant contribution to equality, public life and social history.
The service will also mark the start of a journey to bring an archive of April’s personal memorabilia, clothes, jewellery, letters and photographs back to her home city. This unique collection consists of thousands of artefacts such as diaries, address books, correspondence with Elizabeth Taylor and former partner Grayson Perry, and even fan letters including one from a man who offered to take April to Venus on his rocket ship. There are also a series of legal documents relating to her marriage annulment and her fight for legal recognition as a woman.
These items are currently in private ownership in the city and once catalogued will be professionally archived and a legacy group will be established in collaboration with Liverpool City Council to preserve her memory.
Part of April’s archives have already been donated to Liverpool City Archives in 2014 following the year-long exhibition about her life at the Museum of Liverpool that attracted 900,000 visitors.
Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Councillor Roy Gladden, said: “This service gives us the chance to celebrate the life of a very special woman and proud Liverpudlian.
“Icon, trailblazer and legendary activist are all fitting titles for April who was dedicated to fighting for her rightful, recognised place in society.
“Thursday’s event will undoubtedly be moving and inspirational as we remember this incredible, brave woman who lived life to the full and paved the way for future generations of transgender people.”
Assistant Mayor and Cabinet Member for Culture and Visitor Economy, Councillor Harry Doyle, said:
“April Ashley was a true pioneer. She was Made Citizen of Honour on her eightieth birthday in recognition of the impact she has had on social history and rewarded with an MBE for services to the transgender community.
“I am delighted to support this event which welcomes her amazing archive back to the city she loved and which in turn loved her. “
Bev Ayre, Executor and Custodian of the April Ashley Archive Estate, said:
“April had a lifetime of adventures meeting all the great names of the 20th century, from Einstein and Churchill, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones to Elvis, Salvador Dali and Grayson Perry. Photographed by David Bailey and a Vogue model in the swinging sixties she went on to run a successful Knightsbridge restaurant, a favourite of celebrities and the aristocracy.
“Her marriage annulment case set a precedent regarding gender for the following 50 years and she was instrumental in the passing of the Gender Recognition Act. Fortunately she kept a record of it all.
“Thousands of letters, personal diaries, transcripts, photos and an incredible jewellery and clothing collection have returned to Liverpool where her legacy will live on.”
About April Ashley
April was born in the Liverpool Maternity Hospital on Oxford Street in 1935 and was called George Jamieson. She spent her childhood on Pitt Street, L1 then Teynham Crescent L11, before joining the Merchant Navy and eventually living in London, Hay on Wye, Paris and California.
She was one of the first people in the world to undergo gender reassignment surgery.
She met many Twentieth Century icons including Einstein and Picasso and she performed for others such as Elvis, Salvador Dali and Bob Hope at the world famous Le Carrousel club. Photographed by David Bailey she was regarded as Vogue’s top underwear model in the 1960s.
April died in London on 27 December 2021 aged 86 and was buried with her father and grandparents in Ford Cemetery, Litherland in January.
There are several television and film companies working on productions about April’s life, there is also a book in development and a documentary, a play and a musical are also being discussed.