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I’m no puppet, says ‘Hackney Heroine’

ELECTION: Pauline Pearce at home in Hackney

PAULINE PEARCE became an Internet sensation when she was captured on camera ranting at rioters in Hackney, east London, during last August’s disturbances.

Her impassioned speech, which has so far gained more than a million views on YouTube, struck a cord with the public and she was dubbed the ‘Hackney Heroine’.

Now, eight months later, she has announced her intention to stand as Liberal Democrat candidate for Hackney Central ward in the May 3 council by-election.

But critics and onlookers have questioned her political allegiance, and accused her of being a political puppet.

She rubbishes that claim. “People think I’m being used [by the Liberal Democrats], but I don’t think I am,” says the 46-year-old grandmother.

Speaking to The Voice at her home in Hackney, she adds: “Of course, if I am, then they’ve hidden it well.”

Pearce believes she has a common sense approach to tackling some of black London’s massive challenges, having been educated at the university of life.

She is keen to support issues such as community cohesion and is an avid supporter of Liberal Democrat mayoral candidate Brian Paddick’s quest to empower youths, combat gang violence and end race discrimination in police stop and search operations.

“With all the fuss surrounding stop and search, and police distrust, it’s time we got the youths off the road, gave them somewhere to go and encouraged them to engage with their communities. That’s imperative,” says Pearce.

She is concerned about the racial stereotyping of black youths and the disproportionate number of them being stopped and searched by police.

“I see ‘youts’ getting pulled down every minute. One will cross the road and get stopped by police, and then he’ll cross back over and get stopped by another set of police,” she alleges.

“They’re stripped down, barefoot on the pavement, and I find that disgusting. More often than not, they’re unarmed and have no drugs on them. They’re just innocent boys, guilty for being black.”

Her move into politics began shortly after the riots in August last year, when she was contacted by playwright and actor Simon de Deney, she says.

“I met up with Simon two months after the riots for a cup of tea. I thought he was going to write a play about me.”

ASPIRATIONS

Pearce told him about her aspirations, only learning later that de Deney had links to the Liberal Democrats.

She wants to introduce community centres and youth groups in Hackney to provide mentoring and job support, as well as recreational activities like music, arts and crafts.

“Some bright spark came up with the idea of putting individual communities on individual estates,” she says, explaining that these self-contained estates limit people’s exposure to the outside world and people from other communities. She believes this isolation can fuel postcode wars, something she is keen to tackle.

De Deney contacted Pearce and said the Liberal Democrats loved her community centre concept. She was later selected as the party’s candidate for the ward.

Politics is a far cry from where Pearce started life as the child of Barbadian immigrants in Hertfordshire.

Pearce attended a nearby grammar school and took part in youth drama projects as a child. She told The Voice her parents were disciplinarians.

“The Government has taken discipline away from the parents. My mum would drive me out of blues dances when she found I wasn’t at Bible study. There’s nothing more embarrassing than being shamed by your parents.”

Pearce gave birth to her first child, Iesha, at 21, and three more children followed in close succession.

She worked a series of part-time jobs to support her young family and was heavily involved in music.

During the 1990s, Pearce toured as a jazz singer with various bands and recorded countless demos and tracks.

But life has also thrown some huge boulders at Pearce – and since gaining fame last summer, her history has been well documented in the media.

In 1999, when Pearce was travelling home from a holiday in Jamaica, she was asked to deliver a jar of peppers to someone.

Unknown to her, Pearce says, the jar contained cocaine. In 2001, she was jailed for three years for smuggling.

INCARCERATED

Her first grandchild was born two weeks before her prison sentence, and while incarcerated, her father, now 76, was left to care for her family.

Tragically, her beloved mother died from cancer while she was in jail.

Upon release, Pearce moved to Hackney and started to rebuild her life.

She has continued to overcome obstacles – she recently fought breast cancer, faced the demise of her marriage to her youngest son’s father, and witnessed her son Ronald, 19, being stabbed in the street three years ago.

He was knifed when a teenager carrying a blade ran past him, pursuing another person.

Pearce said these experiences have equipped her to understand – and help find and implement solutions to – many of the issues affecting the local community.

“I’ve been involved in gangs. I’ve been to jail. I’ve had a mastectomy and my daughter had her first child at 14. It’s all out there in the open, but I worry about the kids on the streets,” she says, sipping a cup of tea as she reclines in a chair.

She adds: “Whether it’s Allah, Jah or God, we all believe in a higher being, and since the riots I’ve never questioned the Father.

“He’s put me through all this because I have to deal with people now. This is his master plan for me.”

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