Born plain George Jamieson, he became the first Briton to have a sex change and sparked countless lurid headlines.
But today actress and campaigner Miss April Ashley is appointed an MBE for services to transgender equality. The award marks the latest chapter in the sensational life of the 77-year-old, a veteran of numerous sex scandals. In her glamorous heyday she became a Vogue model, seduced actors Omar Sharif and Peter O’Toole and attracted the amorous attentions of Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso. But her world came crashing down in the Sixties when a ‘friend’ sold her story to a newspaper and intimate details of how she had been turned from a man into a woman under a surgeon’s knife caused a sensation. She bounced back, marrying an aristocrat but that only led to more astonishing revelations. April was born into a seafaring Liverpudlian family in 1935 and says she knew from the age of three there was something ‘different’ about her. Dark, slightly built and effeminate, the young George became the victim of daily beatings at school. At 15, in a vain attempt to become masculine, he signed up for the merchant navy but after two years at sea – once more a magnet for bullies – he resolved to commit suicide. A failed attempt saw him ‘dishonourably discharged’ and after two further attempts he was locked up in a mental institution. Eventually allowed out, George headed for London – once sharing a boarding house with former deputy prime minister Lord Prescott – where he began cross-dressing.
He moved to Paris in 1955, calling himself Toni and working as a hostess at Le Carousel, a drag club, where he mingled with a set that included Ernest Hemingway, Jean Paul Sartre and Bob Hope.
In 1960, at the age of 25 and having saved £3,000, he travelled to Casablanca and was introduced to Moroccan surgeon Doctor Burou, known as The Wizard of Casablanca, who had carried out eight previous sex change ops.
The procedure lasted seven hours, and afterwards she returned to London, where her striking looks soon led to a modelling assignment for Vogue, shot by David Bailey, and to a minor role in the Bob Hope and Bing Crosby film The Road To Hong Kong.
But success came abruptly to an end in 1961 when a friend sold her story to the Sunday People, published under the headline: The Extraordinary Case Of Top Model April Ashley – Her Secret Is Out. She became a celebrity ‘freak’ but her notoriety didn’t stop her marrying into the aristocracy. In 1963 she wed Arthur Corbett, the Eton-educated son and heir of Lord Rowallan. When they met Corbett was already married with four children and had a penchant for dressing up as a woman himself. He eventually left his wife and April moved into the highest echelons of British society before the marriage collapsed.
Flashback: How the Sunday People reported the revelation that April Ashley was born a man, in 1961
Shock: The News of the World's spread on May 13, 1962
She once again hit the headlines after Corbett petitioned for divorce in 1969. It became one of the most talked about events of the decade with details of the case exploding over the newspapers. The couple faced each other in the courtroom, with Corbett claiming the union should be annulled on the grounds that because Ashley had been born a man, the marriage had never been legally sound. The court agreed, setting a precedent which left transsexuals in gender limbo, until laws came into effect eight years ago that allowed them to be recognised legally as women.
Unfortunate: April Ashley's wedding to Arthur Corbett was delayed after intrusions into her life
In 1983, despite almost reaching 50, she had a one night stand with Michael Hutchence, who was just finding fame with INXS. Following a hard fought campaign, April was finally able to legally call herself a woman in 2004, when the Government’s introduced the Gender Recognition Act. It was not until 2005 that she was granted a new birth certificate, asserting that she was born female – with the help of old housemate John Prescott. She says: ‘He was ever so supportive… he and his wife still send me Christmas cards.’ She now lives alone in Fulham, West London.
JILLY JOHNSON AS SHE REALLY IS: Here, I’ve had my hair blow-dried, and my make-up applied professionally, but this is the real me. You can see the sun-damage on my decolletage, the crow’s feet round my eyes, and the beginnings of crepey skin around my neck
WITH A LITTLE RE-TOUCHING: HERE, the wrinkles around my eyes and neck have been smoothed. My jaw has also been subtly sculpted, the vein on my forehead removed and the blemishes on my chest erased. My skin tone has been evened out, too
FULL GLOSSY MAG MAKEOVER: This is my favourite of the three images - although it bears little resemblance to the real me. I love how the airbrush has blitzed all my wrinkles and plumped up my lips. My eyes are now sparkling and my jaw-line more defined
Robin Gibb's family and friends were joined by thousands of people in his hometown of Thame, Oxon today in bidding the singer a final farewell. Hundreds of fans lined the streets as a glass horse-drawn carriage covered in red roses made its way down the town's high street on the way to the funeral. Family members including Robin's wife Dwina, his sons Spencer and RJ, and brother Barry and Barry's son Stevie, were pictured leading the procession on foot from the gate house of their estate to St Mary's Church.
Final farewell: Robin Gibb's family, including (front row left to right) Barry's son Stevie, brother Barry, sons Spencer and RJ and wife Dwina, are pictured leading the procession to St Mary's Church in Thame for his funeral today
In mourning: Hundreds lined the streets for the funeral cortege from the late singer's home, down the high street to the church
It had been Gibb's wish to 'say a final goodbye to fans and his home town of Thame', according to his family. The 62-year-old singer died from kidney failure last month after fighting colon cancer and pneumonia.
The late star's beloved Irish Wolfhounds Ollie and Missy were included in the funeral, following directly behind the cortege and wearing sombre black bows tied around their necks.
Procession: A horse-drawn glass carriage is taken through Gibb's home town of Thame
Musical tribute: The four black horses wore cloths with golden treble clefs in tribute to the star's career, and were accompanied by a piper
Not left out: Gibb's beloved Irish Wolfhounds Ollie and Missy also took part in the procession
Close to home: St Mary's church is opposite the home which the musician shared with wife Dwina for 19 years
Four black horses pulling the carriage wore cloths decorated with gold treble clefs in tribute to Gibb's career, and were accompanied by a piper. The casket was draped with the flag of the Isle of Man, where the brothers were born. Celebrity guests including Sir Tim Rice, Uri Geller, Peter Andre, Mike Reed and Leslie Phillips were also seen amongst the mourners. St Mary's church is opposite the home which the musician had shared with wife Dwina for 19 years. He will later be buried in the churchyard.
The last Bee Gee: Barry Gibb is the only surviving Gibb brother now
Paying respects: Mike Reed and Peter Andre were pictured amongst the mourners
Showbusiness friends: Sir Tim Rice and Leslie Phillips were also spotted in the crowd outside the church
Two candles flickered at the front of the church as some guests entered in tears, to take their places on wooden seats surrounded by pink and white flowers. They were issued with an order of service printed with a black and white picture of Gibb on the front cover, and images of red roses throughout. An image of the three members of the Bee Gees - Robin, Maurice and Barry - was on the back.
For the last time: Gibb's casket leaves his Oxfordshire estate in the glass carriage as fans assemble outside
Hometown: A flag of the Isle of Man, where the singer was born, was draped on the coffin
Time to say goodbye: Robin's sons were amongst the pallbearers
Banned: The mother of Gibb's love child, Claire Yang, was reportedly banned from the funeral by Dwina
At the service Dwina will read a poem that she wrote especially for today, and children Spencer, Melissa and RJ will read tributes to their father. A song written by Robin will also be debuted. Don't Cry Alone is thought to be his final composition taken from his Titanic Requiem. The touching song features the opening lines: 'If your heart is breaking, I'm yours whatever, I will not forsake you ever, don't cry alone.' At the request of the late singer, Bee Gees hit How Deep Is Your Love will be the first song of the service, while guests are due to leave the church to the sound of I Started A Joke, which includes the line, 'I finally died, which started the whole world living.'
According to reports, Dwina has banned the mother of Robin's love child, Claire Yang from attending the funeral. She has told friends that she would absolutely hate the former housekeeper to attend, but wouldn't turn her away if she did. Barry Gibb is now the only surviving brother. Gibb's twin Maurice died in 2003 following complications from a twisted bowel, and their younger brother Andy - who also had a chart career - died in 1988.
In remembrance: The Order of Service featured a picture the chart-topping group
How Deep Is Your Love: Bee Gees songs were included in the service, along with tributes from his children Spencer, Melissa and RJ
Police say Welch was found dead by his wife after shooting himself in the chest at their Nashville home at around 12.15pm local time today. The Californian musician had had health issues recently, according to police spokesman Don Aaron, who confirmed that Welch left a suicide note. Scroll down for video
Suicide: Former Fleetwood Mac member Bob Welch was found dead today after shooting himself in the chest
The spokesman would not elaborate on specific details regarding Welch's health - but added that there was no evidence of foul play. Welch, who also had a solo career, was a guitarist and vocalist for Fleetwood Mac from 1971 to 1974 and worked on albums such as Future Games and Bare Trees.
Ailing: Welch, pictured here in a 1995 documentary, had apparently suffered from health problems of late
He formed the British rock group Paris in 1976, and had hits including Sentimental Lady in 1977 and Ebony Eyes in 1978. Fleetwood Mac's Christine McVie and Lindsey Buckingham did backing vocals on Sentimental Lady. Fleetwood Mac's career took off in the mid-1970s after Welch left the band. Dreams was a Number 1 hit in 1977, and Don't Stop hit the top of the charts the same year. It later became the anthem for Bill Clinton's presidential campaign. Hold Me was a hit in 1982 and Little Lies in 1987. Welch, a native of Los Angeles, scored his biggest hit with Sentimental Lady, which reached No. 8 on the Billboard chart. His other singles included Precious Love in 1979 and Hot Love, Cold World in 1978. Welch fell out with his former band mates after suing the group in 1994 for unpaid royalties, which led to his exclusion from the group's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 1998. 'It basically comes down to the fact that they don't like me anymore,' he told The Plain Dealer of Cleveland at the time. 'I guess they can do what they want. I could understand it if I had been a sideman for a year. But I was an integral part of that band... I put more of myself into that band than anything else I've ever done.'
Devastated: Longtime Fleetwood Mac singer Stevie Nicks today told The Associated Press that Welch's death hit her hard
Longtime Fleetwood Mac singer Stevie Nicks today told The Associated Press that Welch's death hit her hard. 'The death of Bob Welch is devastating... I had many great times with him after Lindsey and I joined Fleetwood Mac. He was an amazing guitar player - he was funny, sweet - and he was smart. I am so very sorry for his family and for the family of Fleetwood Mac - so, so sad.' As a songwriter, Welch had his songs recorded by Kenny Rogers, Sammy Hagar, the Pointer Sisters and others. In 1999 he released a CD, Bob Welch Looks at Bop, a salute to bebop music in the 1940s.
Heyday: Welch, centre, was in the band between 1971 and 1974, and was a guitarist and vocalist. Pictured here in 1973 with (from left) Bob Weston, Christine McVie, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood
In an interview with The Tennessean in 2003, Welch said he never dreamed he'd be remembered for much. 'I just wanted to play guitar in a good band,' he said. 'I wanted to make the music I love. I wanted to travel the world and have adventures.' Welch also said 'music is disposable now. It doesn't have the emotional impact anymore. That's sad.' He had lived in Nashville since the 1990s. Welch is the second member of Fleetwood Mac to die this year. In January, another former guitarist for the band, Bob Weston, died in London from a gastrointestinal haemorrhage, at age 64.
Former bandmates: Fleetwood Mac circa 1972/1973, Welch is seen in the middle
Watch Bob Welch perform with Fleetwood Mac in 1973
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I woke up this morning to a pile of annoying articles about how so few mothers in the US nurse their babies for even three months, articles like this one in Huffington Post. By the time I finished reading a half dozen of them and the comments that accompanied them, I was spitting milk mad.
Don't misunderstand me, I am not mad at the women who failed to nurse their babies at all, or the ones who gave up, or the ones who commented on these articles that some women can't nurse and sometimes it is better that moms give up on breastfeeding and bottlefeed. I am not mad that they wrote that moms shouldn't feel bad or blame themselves, that a comfortable baby and mom with a bottle is better than an unhappy breastfeeding mom and a miserable baby.
Even though I believe most women (all who don't have a weird physical problem or disease) can nurse successfully and most babies (all who don't have a weird physical problem or disease) can nurse successfully as well, I am not mad at those who fail or those that tell moms it is okay if they do.
I am mad at our medical and nursing professionals who refuse to tell 100% of the truth about breastfeeding in America; this makes me sick.
I will go out on a limb and tell the truth because they are to scared to do so. I know I will get comments and emails from this mother and that who will tell me she failed in nursing because she really didn't have enough milk or her baby just wouldn't nurse no matter what. I have totally empathy for these moms because they did try very hard under circumstances that were stacked against them; a society that doesn't support breastfeeding and professionals who screw women over with bad information, bad advice, and outright lies (like "We didn't give your baby formula in the nursery," or "You should pump milk and give your baby a bottle once or twice a day to get him used to it before you go back to work.")
Breastfeeding in America fails because mothers have alternatives (bottles and formula) and are told it is okay. Women in other countries, too poor to buy formula, almost never fail at nursing their babies. Why? Because they have no alternative.....read more
During her performance in Tel Aviv, Madonna wrapped herself in an Israeli flag and called the country the "energy center of the world." In this touching after-show picture, Madonna is in the arms of Israeli prime minister Netanyahu and his wife.
Some of the world's biggest stars – from Madonna to the Red Hot Chili Peppers – are being accused of putting profit before principle in a growing backlash against artists performing in Israel. Campaigners angry at human rights abuses against the Palestinian people – symbolised by Israel's policy of demolishing the homes of Palestinians and allowing Israeli settlers to take over their land – are demanding a boycott of Israeli venues in a campaign that echoes the 1980s protests against South Africa and the infamous venue Sun City.
Last week Madonna came under fire for her decision to perform in Israel to kick off her world tour last Thursday. "
By performing in Israel, Madonna has consciously and shamefully lent her name to fig-leafing Israel's occupation and apartheid and showed her obliviousness to human rights," said Omar Barghouti of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.
Attempts by Madonna to deflect criticism by offering free tickets to local campaigners backfired, with a number rejecting the offer. Boycott from Within, an Israeli campaign group, accused the singer of "a blatant attempt at whitewashing Israeli crimes".
Mr Barghouti added: "As we've learned from the South African struggle for freedom, entertaining Israeli apartheid should never be mislabelled as singing for peace." The star's publicist did not respond to requests for comment.
Acts such as alleged war crimes during Israel's 2008 invasion of Gaza and the 2010 killing of peace activists by Israeli commandos on an aid ship are fuelling the return of an anti-apartheid campaign on a scale not seen in a generation.
Saeed Amireh, 21, a peace activist from Nilin in the West Bank, said: "We don't have freedom of movement. They don't want peace; they just want us to disappear. They are suppressing our very existence."..read more