Early life[ edit ] Austen was born in Belfast , Northern Ireland. She had a generally unhappy and dislocated childhood, including a spell at boarding school, where she was abused. She was an outwardly popular and charismatic child but after suffering years of sexual abuse made worse by her gender dysphoria, she decided to join the British Army to camouflage her real personality. She retrained as a video journalist in working for Scottish Television. Her military background saw her dispatched to war zones covering the Gulf War 1 , the civil wars in Angola and Afghanistan, and the conflict in Bosnia , as well as service with the United Nations.
She then worked as a director and series producer for Scottish and Anglia Television. In Hamilton was promoted to editor-in-chief of the television division of Mirror Group. As an over-age candidate, she first joined the Territorial Army and then the Regular Army. She joined the Parachute Regiment in , having already passed the stringent selection process at age 35, and went on to attend All Arms Commando Course and Special Forces selection with 22 SAS , becoming a combat survival and a physical training instructor.
She served with the Cheshire Regiment and The Highlanders in a variety of command appointments, as well as a number of staff appointments both in the UK and overseas, with a speciality in Information and Psychological Operations. In she commanded a company from The Parachute Regiment on operations in Iraq. She returned to the United Kingdom in and spent a period recovering from two continuous years of operations before taking a position back in Afghanistan with NATO Forces, advising on specialist counter-narcotics operations, from where she was medevacked back to the UK with a serious infection following an IED incident.
In , Abigail decided to undergo gender normalisation, in accordance with her desire to live as a female. Transgender individuals in the UK are protected under a number of legislative acts, including the Sex Discrimination Act Amendments and the Gender Recognition Act , which make it illegal to treat a person differently on the grounds of gender alone, with the aim of protecting the rights of trans-people in the work-place. Although other people in the Royal Navy and Air Force have successfully transitioned in the service, as the first officer and first paratrooper, Austen's background caused considerable surprise to the Army, particularly in the light of constant media attention.
At that time, the British military did not have regulations in place to support Ms. This led to a lengthy and public legal dispute. The issue was eventually amicably resolved, and Austen resigned her commission.
Army policy on trans-gender soldiers was then formalised to allow soldiers to transition while in service. This was repeated several times on UK television and sold to a number of other territories. The film continues to be shown around the world and formed the basis for a biographical film based on her life, produced by the Japanese TV company NHK.
She continues to undertake a number of training and advisory roles on gender issues, including with Lancashire Police. She continues to support the Parachute Regiment by fundraising for Airborne Charities. After leaving regular military service, Austen served as a police officer with Strathclyde Police in Glasgow, setting the first Scottish legal precedents for transphobic crimes and as the UK lead on development of diversity awareness for the national police service.
She maintained a connection to the Army by regaining her commission as an instructor with the Army Cadet Force, mentoring troubled young people from her police ward. She served three years on back-to-back tours with the US 82nd Airborne, 3rd and 4th infantry divisions and was awarded a number of prestigious decorations for her work.
She then moved to Ukraine, as deputy ambassador and senior diplomatic spokesperson for the European Union security sector reform mission. She maintains a lecturing role to U. Following her experiences in Kandahar, she wrote the book Lord Roberts' Valet and began a career strand as producer and presenter of her own television documentaries.
Austen was further nominated as International Presenter of the Year by the Association of International Broadcasters. Controversy[ edit ] Austen was featured in several UK national newspapers, and has made many television and radio appearances. She received several threats of violence from serving soldiers because of the attendant publicity of this case, but denied the pay-out and currently has three complaints against various newspapers lodged with the Press Complaints Commission.