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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.
In 2000, Pearce was convicted of drug smuggling. She was sentenced to six years' imprisonment and served three years. She had attempted to import cocaine hidden in pickled peppers on her return from Jamaica. Pearce described the event as the biggest mistake of her life.
Upon her release, Pearce retrained in catering and ran a number of West Indian-themed restaurant businesses. She moved to Hackney in 2004.
Pearce was diagnosed with breast cancer and had multiple rounds of treatment requiring her to carry a walking stick.
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.
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. The subsequent speech berates rioters for looting instead of protesting about the death of Mark Duggan.
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.Cassandra Jardine cited the speech as one example of resilience by those who have faced violence as a result of the riots.Zoe Williams wrote that Pearce's courage to intervene was more important than either the content or style of the speech. A fortnight after the event, Pearce took BBC London News reporter Paraic O'Brien on a tour of the recovering community.
Pearce reported feeling embarrassment at becoming an internet sensation but does not regret making the speech and has apologised for the swearing. 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.
Pearce's speech has been used in a song. 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.
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.
At the Party Conference of Autumn 2016, Pearce proposed a motion to commit the Liberal Democrats against nationalism, racism and the far-right. The motion was passed.
In December 2016, Pearce was elected onto the Federal Board of the Liberal Democrats.
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. Her campaign prioritised her opposition to Brexit and tackling knife crime, for which she proposed a Violence Reduction Unit modelled on that in Scotland. At the election on 3 May 2018, she came fourth with 7.5% of the vote. On the same day, Pearce contested the Brownswood ward of Hackney; she came fourth with 8.7% of the vote.
^ ab'"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.
^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.
^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.
^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 [...]
^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]