PERCY/ROBERTA KELLY (1918-1993)

Born in Workington into an extremely religious household, artist Percy Kelly showed enthusiasm and talent for drawing from an early age. Although Kelly would later attract many well-placed admirers, including Winston Churchill and Princess Margaret, the artist resisted exhibiting work until 48 years of age.

Kelly was what we now might refer to as trans, although this is not a word Kelly used, instead referring to ‘a feminine side to my character which has been and still is a curse. No doubt if I had been normal, I might not have possessed the same creative spirit.  Married twice, it is reported that Kelly’s first marriage ended when ‘discovered’ wearing a dress.  This event and quote expresses some of the struggle that Kelly faced in acknowledging and living in the way they believed they should, even when this was at the heart of their creativity.  

Happily, in 1985, Kelly changed their name to Roberta Penelope and lived the remaining eight years of their life as a woman.  Eleven years after her death The Gender Recognition Act 2004 enabled people to legally change their gender.

Image: Roberta Penelope Kelly, 1980s. Image © Dr Rob David