Heroine of Hackney
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Heroine of Hackney

Pauline Pearce is a British Liberal Democrat campaigner and anti-knife crime activist. Pearce came to prominence during the 2011 England riots, featuring in a viral video in which she chastised rioters, leading her to be dubbed the Heroine of Hackney.[1]

Early life and career

Pearce was born in Barbados and raised in Hitchin.[1][2] She attended Purwell Primary School, Hitchin Girls' School and then North Hertfordshire College.[3]

Pearce joined the Queen Mary Theatre and worked as a cleaner and care worker before launching into a jazz singing career, which included a show at the Edinburgh Fringe.[3]

In 2000, Pearce was convicted of drug smuggling. She was sentenced to six years' imprisonment and served three years.[1][3][4] She had attempted to import cocaine hidden in pickled peppers on her return from Jamaica.[1] Pearce described the event as the biggest mistake of her life.[3]

Upon her release, Pearce retrained in catering and ran a number of West Indian-themed restaurant businesses.[3][5] She moved to Hackney in 2004.[1]

Pearce was diagnosed with breast cancer and had multiple rounds of treatment requiring her to carry a walking stick.[3][6]

She has two sons, two daughters and four grandchildren. Her youngest son was a victim of knife crime in 2009, which led her to become an activist against knife crime, running a community project known as Do Something for Life. Pearce hosted a Monday afternoon show on Conscious Radio, called More Love, which she used for her activism.[1][7]

Pearce auditioned for Britain's Got Talent in 2010 and 2012.[8]

Clarence Road, Lower Clapton, the site of the looting and speech

Heroine of Hackney

Pearce came to public prominence during the 2011 England riots. She was filmed close to a riot on Clarence Road in Lower Clapton, furiously chastising looters over their criminal behaviour.[1][9][10]

An argument began when Pearce asked someone why he was burning vehicles. She pointed out that they belonged to local people who had saved money to buy them. An excuse was offered by a third person, saying that the owners had vehicle insurance policies. This angered Pearce, who did not find it acceptable.[11][12] The subsequent speech berates rioters for looting instead of protesting about the death of Mark Duggan.[10]

The 46-second clip was subsequently uploaded to YouTube,[13] quickly becoming popular and receiving more than a million hits in a few hours.[9][14][15] Its rapid spread was helped by tweeting from celebrities such as newspaper editor Piers Morgan.[9]

Pearce was hailed as a heroine for helping to ease tensions in Hackney; her influence was acknowledged by politicians[16][17] and the national press.[10][18][19][20][21][22] MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch, Meg Hillier, invited Pearce to the Houses of Parliament.[23]MP for Tottenham, David Lammy, commented that his deceased mother would have been devastated by the riots and would have reacted in a similar manner to Pearce.[24]

Among newspaper columnists, Allison Pearson commented that Pearce was voicing what the rest of the country felt, and that young people need more people like her.[18]Cassandra Jardine cited the speech as one example of resilience by those who have faced violence as a result of the riots.[25]Zoe Williams wrote that Pearce's courage to intervene was more important than either the content or style of the speech.[26] A fortnight after the event, Pearce took BBC London News reporter Paraic O'Brien on a tour of the recovering community.[27]

Pearce reported feeling embarrassment at becoming an internet sensation[1] but does not regret making the speech[23] and has apologised for the swearing.[11] Speaking to The Australian newspaper, Pearce described the looting and vandalism as being "heart-breaking" and also contrasted people's relative poverty with expenditure for the Olympic Games.[28]

Pearce's speech has been used in a song.[22] The name of Pearce's community project Do Something for Life is shared by a single she wants to release to raise money for charity.[1][29][30]

In September 2011, Pearce featured in The Spectator, dismissing David Starkey's view that hip-hop culture was partly to blame for the riots.[31] In the same month, she was awarded the Team London Award at the annual Peace Awards by Boris Johnson.[32]

Political career

Despite coming from a staunchly Labour family, and not having voted in the previous three elections, Pearce joined the Liberal Democrats in 2012.[3][7]

On 3 May 2012, she contested a local by-election in the Hackney Central ward of Hackney London Borough Council, coming third with 15.3% of the vote.[33] Her campaign opposed the coalition government's spending cuts, called for more community centres and opposed the use of water cannons and CS gas by riot police.[7]

Pearce intended to stand in the Liberal Democrat presidential election of 2014. She withdrew from the election in August 2014, accusing the party of "underhand racism" and "Neanderthal views on diversity": she claimed that senior party figures would not support her as a result of her previous criminal conviction.[34][35]

In the 2015 general election, Pearce contested the constituency of Hitchin and Harpenden. She came fourth with 8.1% of the vote.[36]

At the Party Conference of Autumn 2016, Pearce proposed a motion to commit the Liberal Democrats against nationalism, racism and the far-right.[37][38] The motion was passed.[39]

In December 2016, Pearce was elected onto the Federal Board of the Liberal Democrats.[40]

In December 2017, Pearce was selected to stand as the party's candidate in the Mayor of Hackney election by a unanimous vote of local party members.[41] Her campaign prioritised her opposition to Brexit and tackling knife crime, for which she proposed a Violence Reduction Unit modelled on that in Scotland.[42] At the election on 3 May 2018, she came fourth with 7.5% of the vote.[43] On the same day, Pearce contested the Brownswood ward of Hackney; she came fourth with 8.7% of the vote.[44]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Gardham, Duncan (10 August 2011). "'Hackney speech woman' revealed to be local jazz singer". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 2018.
  2. ^ Beckford, Martin (15 March 2012). "Liberal Democrats select Heroine of Hackney Pauline Pearce as council candidate". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Candidate Profile: Pauline Pearce". The Comet. 17 March 2015. Retrieved 2018.
  4. ^ Dent, Grace (18 August 2014). "The Hackney Heroine is exactly what politics needs". The Independent. Retrieved 2018.
  5. ^ "#LibDemPint Black History Month". Liberal Democrats. Retrieved 2018.
  6. ^ Agius, Naomi (22 March 2015). "Liberal Democrat candidate for Harpenden is "Hackney Heroine"". Herts Advertiser. Retrieved 2018.
  7. ^ a b c "'Hackney Heroine' Pauline Pearce to stand in council byelection - Hackney Citizen". Hackney Citizen. 15 March 2012. Retrieved 2018.
  8. ^ Mayer, Chloë (10 February 2012). "'Heroine of Hackney' Pauline Pearce sings for Simon Cowell". Hackney Gazette. Retrieved 2018.
  9. ^ a b c Harper, Tom (9 August 2011). "A million hits for footage of Hackney woman berating looters". London Evening Standard. Archived from the original on 14 January 2013. Retrieved 2011.
  10. ^ a b c "London riots: Woman confronts rioters in Hackney". The Daily Telegraph. 9 August 2011. Retrieved 2011.
  11. ^ a b '"Hackney heroine's" riot anger' (Embedded video). London: ITN/The Independent. 15 August 2011. Retrieved 2011. The argument started because I said to a gentleman, "What is this about? Why burn these vehicles? These are people who are living here like us and saved their money to buy their car and another man came up and said, 'Oh, well they've got insurance' so I said, 'So that makes it right?'" And that's when I actually got so angry: you can't justify this by saying that they've got insurance, because it's riots many people aren't going to be paid insurance because there's an insurance clause which apparently says if it's involved in a riot: no money. I didn't think of my safety at the time. I'm just one of those types of people who get angry and voice my opinion there and then. Now, people are saying to me, 'You were so brave' and I didn't realise, I didn't think I suppose. I'd do it again, because that's just me. I wasn't even aware it was being recorded, and I do apologise for the swearing.
  12. ^ London riots: 'Hackney heroine's' riot anger at seeing community destroyed (Embedded video). The Daily Telegraph. 15 August 2011. Retrieved 2011.
  13. ^ "Hackney riots: Local woman's fearless speech to looters goes viral". Metro. 9 August 2011. Retrieved 2011.
  14. ^ Raymond, Judy (13 August 2011). "Could the riots have happened here?". Trinidad and Tobago Express. Retrieved 2011.
  15. ^ Van Gilder Cooke, Sonia (15 August 2011). "10 Heroes of the London Riots: Lady P (a.k.a. Pauline Pearce)". Time (magazine). New York City. Retrieved 2011.
  16. ^ Hattenstone, Simon (14 August 2011). "David Lammy: 'There is a history in Tottenham that involves deaths in police custody'". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2011.
  17. ^ Arnold, Jennette (16 August 2011). "Reactionary 'Ideas' are not What London Needs". Huffington Post. New York City. Retrieved 2011. At a recent meeting with Mayor Johnson [...] I wish he had taken up my offer to come with me to Clarence Rd in Hackney, one of the worst affected areas in the Borough, for a street-reclaiming tea party that had been organised by the rector of Hackney, Fr Rob Wickham and the local community. [...] He also would have met Pauline Pearce.
  18. ^ a b Pearson, Allison (10 August 2011). "Raised to rampage". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 2011.
  19. ^ Jardine, Cassandra (12 August 2011). "Burnt out but not bowed by the mob". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 2011.
  20. ^ Williams, Zoe (12 August 2011). "UK riots: the stories behind the people who defined the week". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2011.
  21. ^ Thompson, Angus (9 August 2011). "Hackney woman slams rioters, with video going viral on social media". Herald Sun. Retrieved 2011.
  22. ^ a b "The heroine of Hackney: Grandmother filmed standing up to rioters tells how she saved a boy from being attacked". Daily Mail. 11 August 2011. Retrieved 2011.
  23. ^ a b Butler, Adrian (14 August 2011). "UK riots: the heroine of Hackney Pauline Pearce reveals why she took a stand". Sunday Mirror. Retrieved 2011.
  24. ^ Hattenstone, Simon (14 August 2011). "David Lammy: 'There is a history in Tottenham that involves deaths in police custody'". The Guardian. Retrieved 2011.
  25. ^ Jardine, Cassandra (12 August 2011). "Burnt out but not bowed by the mob". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2011.
  26. ^ Williams, Zoe (12 August 2011). "UK riots: the stories behind the people who defined the week". The Guardian. Retrieved 2011.
  27. ^ O'Brien, Paraic (23 August 2011). "Hackney community recovers after riots". BBC London News. London. Retrieved 2011. Pauline Pearce, dubbed the "Hackney Heroine", introduces Paraic O'Brien to the shopkeeper who lost everything when his shop was looted.
  28. ^ Mistry, Mark; Fordham, Craig (9 August 2011). "Voice of reason amid London violence". The Australian. Retrieved 2011.
  29. ^ Kingsley, Patrick (22 August 2011). "The Hackney Heroine tells why she confronted rioters". The Guardian. Retrieved 2011. She wants to sell the single, called Do Something for Life, to raise money "for the youths of England" - but within minutes, she's out the door, walking stick in hand, trolley in tow, making for the studios of her local radio station, Concious FM, where she's about to present her first set since the riots [...]
  30. ^ Burge, Laura (31 August 2011). "Hitchin-born Heroine of Hackney on Obama and her new charity single". Hitchen Comet. Archant. Retrieved 2011. Proceeds from the single will go towards educating older people, or as Pauline put it, 'making England great again'.
  31. ^ Manzoor, Sarfraz (3 September 2011). "Fifteen minutes later". The Spectator. Retrieved 2011. She is equally so about historian David Starkey's controversial claim that hip-hop culture and in particular a 'particular sort of violent, destructive, nihilistic gangster culture' was to blame for the riots. 'What do you I think of that?' she says. 'Well, in the Queen's English: balderdash. Pigswill. What's been going on has no link to hip-hop. Instead of guessing in his suit and tie he should put a pair of jeans on and get out there and walk around with the people.'[permanent dead link]
  32. ^ Bartholomew, Emma (21 September 2011). "London Mayor Boris Johnson praises 'Hackney heroine' Pauline Pearce". Hackney Gazette. London. Retrieved 2011. Mr Johnson presented [Pauline Pearce] with a Team London Award at the annual Peace Awards ceremony at City Hall, where he also thanked other "unsung heroes" of the recent disorder in the capital.
  33. ^ "By-elections | Hackney Council". www.hackney.gov.uk. Retrieved 2018.
  34. ^ "'Hackney heroine' Pauline Pearce quits Lib Dem presidential race". the Guardian. 17 August 2014. Retrieved 2018.
  35. ^ "Hackney Heroine Slams Lib Dems' 'Neanderthal' Diversity Views". HuffPost UK. 17 August 2018. Retrieved 2018.
  36. ^ "Hitchin and Harpenden - 2015 Election Results - General Elections Online". geo.digiminster.com. Retrieved 2018.
  37. ^ Chindipha, Natalie (12 October 2016). "Two ways we are addressing diversity « Hexham Liberal Democrats". Hexham Liberal Democrats. Retrieved 2018.
  38. ^ http://www.libdems.org.uk/ (18 September 2016). "F15: Combatting Racism". Liberal Democrats. Retrieved 2018.
  39. ^ http://www.libdems.org.uk/ (16 September 2016). "Passed Motions - Autumn Conference 2016". Liberal Democrats. Retrieved 2018.
  40. ^ "Federal Board 2017 Results". Liberal Democrats. 17 December 2016. Retrieved 2018.
  41. ^ Snaith, Emma (8 December 2017). "Liberal Democrats pick 'Hackney Heroine' to stand for mayor in 2018 - Hackney Citizen". Hackney Citizen. Retrieved 2018.
  42. ^ Barnett, Adam (9 April 2018). "'Hackney Heroine' Pauline Pearce vows to tackle knife crime if elected Mayor - Hackney Citizen". www.hackneycitizen.co.uk. Retrieved 2018.
  43. ^ "Mayor of Hackney election 2018 | Hackney Council". www.hackney.gov.uk. Retrieved 2018.
  44. ^ "Borough councillors election 2018 | Hackney Council". www.hackney.gov.uk. Retrieved 2018.

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