Pearl is the Explorer-in-Chief for Pearl Escapes and is a leading expert on the world's spas, massages and healing, from the five star to the middle of the jungle experiences (her secret passion is full moon healing as that's when she met her last boyfriend on a beach in Clearwater, Florida). She's travelled from Beijing to Mexico to try it all and been beaten with Russian branches by a Serbian and been flipped overhead by a half naked Moroccan – all in the interests of research of course. She's stayed in palaces and tents, slept in hammocks and four poster beds, in Upper East side New York townhouses and on river boats.
She has an extremely successful Zumba Fitness practice teaching ages from 4 to 104 and working with people with dementia, multiple sclerosis, depression, heart disease, learning disabilities, recovering from strokes and much, much more. She loves working with carers and trained as a life coach, mentor and bereavement counsellor in order to support them, as she was a young carer herself. She also trains with Beto Perez, the creator of Zumba and the world's top Zumba Educational Specialists each year. And thanks to Zumba she has appeared on GMTV with Lorraine Kelly… in a bikini. She also performed in Trafalgar Square TWICE as part of the London 2012 Olympiad.
Pearl is also a professional writer, having written guidebooks, feature scripts and articles and an enormous website devoted to escapes. She's been featured in Cosmopolitan, Total Film, Time and Leisure and was even shortlisted for the two top US screenwriting awards open to people outside the US; The Chesterfield Film Writers Project and Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences' Nicholl Fellowship (yes, that's the people who do the Oscars!) She also wrote a book about her experience of being a kidney donor to her brother, of which she is extremely proud, as it has really helped other people in that situation. Oh, and she's also written a romantic novel about surfing and escapes.
In her film career she has been a projectionist, cinema manager, critic, executive of the national British Federation of Film Societies, attended the Venice Film Festival, the Cannes Film Festival, walked the red carpet at the Palme d'Or awards before finally deciding to go guerrilla, get a Masters degree in Film and make her own films, including the feature length dance movie starring Brendan Cole "Everything To Dance For." (She has met a lot of movie stars and has a few embarrassing stories and she'll tell you about it if you buy her a margarita on the rocks or an espresso martini if it's before 3pm – she needs her sleep.)
She also worked in the financial industry and was at the top of her field when she decided to quit in the middle of the recession and leave it all behind to focus on Pearl Escapes. She was worried about the mortgage, but as she has an Honours degree in Pure Mathematics she hoped she could juggle her finances for long enough to stay afloat. Five years later she's still in business and has inspired thousands of people to escape in one way or another.
Wow, that sounds pretty good! Of course, although it's all true, I left out a lot of the missteps on the way. It's when you read my books you find out about all the heartache, not to mention the physical pain of a lot of the things I've done.
It also starts a long time before hitting the highs. I grew up one of five children in a single parent family on a council estate and we were probably the poorest on the estate. I didn't get on a plane and leave the country until I was 19 years old. I was that kid in class that dreaded school trips because I was lucky if I got to go on the one that cost a couple of quid, I didn't even ask about the skiing trip (I've still never been skiing).
So many times when I look around a five star hotel I think "how on earth did I get here?" and trust me when I walk into a top hotel in London I still have that sneaky feeling that they can see the council estate kid in me.
But I escaped even then, reading books and watching films and dreaming of the day when I would, of course, be rich and famous and buy my mum everything. I looked at the big houses and posh clothes and dreamed of the day when I could buy anything I wanted. Luckily I was a clever kid and me and my brothers and sisters were constantly being told by our teachers and our mum that we could do anything we set our minds to and achieve anything we wanted. (My mum still says it, along with "but why do you want to do THAT!")
…and maybe if this was a different story I'd be a hedge fund manager in a big house in Wimbledon Village.
But what happened next exploded my life and changed everything. My little brother had a stroke. I've written a lot about donating a kidney to him some time ago, but I'm not exaggerating when I say that it has taken me really until this year, some 28 years to come to terms with the devastation of that stroke.
I think that when I donated the kidney to my brother it was the start of a healing process that eventually took me all the way back to the beginning and to embracing and healing all the broken parts of myself.
Every escape I have taken has been part of that process, and I realise, especially when I have one of those self castigating moments of "why oh why did I do that!" that I HAD to make those mistakes, learn those lessons and live that life in order to evolve and move on to the next part of the journey. It was all essential, it was all meant to be (even the parts I realised were not meant to be forever) in short, it was all happening perfectly even when I thought it was chaos.
When you read the glam bit or even when someone comes to my class for the first time they sometimes look at me as if to say "what can you know of struggle or pain?", so it's important that you know that I know what it is to be broken. To be heartbroken and struggling to put one foot in front of the other, to be physically broken and not even be able to sit up in bed without a nurse's help, to be so depressed that I have struggled to get out of bed in the morning and to stay alive, to be financially broke and broken, feeling so out of control of credit card debt, counting the pennies and praying for enough to pay the mortgage, bursting into tears when someone has helped me out, praying that I don't have to go back and work in the financial industry, borrowing money from a friend to get to work in a foreign country, and to be so grief stricken that I couldn't stop crying, couldn't get warm, couldn't stop mysterious pains in my body.
I've lost friends and family, some from misadventure, some from chronic illness and some who were just living safe, healthy lives who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I've also been stuck for years playing it safe, sticking with that soul sucking job in finance because it paid so well. I've been there too. It gave me a chance to remortgage and consolidate my debts and figure out my next step in life so I can't knock it, but I'm so glad I left.
I spent 10 years not dating anyone because I was so scared of getting my heart broken again after disastrous relationships in my 20s.
After I gave my brother the kidney everything changed, because suddenly people around me were telling me what an amazing person I was. So why didn't I feel like I was an amazing person? Why was I still letting people treat me as if I wasn't good enough? Why was I treating myself as if I wasn't good enough? So finally I got a great therapist (not my first attempt at therapy but this one stuck) and I started to unravel all the things inside myself that had got mixed up.
I got better, and then I got better still.
I realised how perfect my body is, even minus one kidney and with an enormous scar (sometimes I tell people it’s a shark bite and see how long they buy it for.)
I realised that I had to let go of a lot if I wanted to live my own life.
I opened up to anything and everything that might make me feel better.
I became stronger, fitter, kinder, more open hearted and more adventurous, and became happier than I ever thought I could be.
I have had experiences that I couldn't possibly have dreamed of when I was a kid (although I'm still not rich or famous… yet).
Sadly the kidney failed and my brother is now on dialysis and waiting for a transplant, but it doesn't change the fact that I gave him that gift and he knows that I would do it all again in a heartbeat if I had another kidney to spare.
Part of me always feels guilty that I get to go out into the world and have such amazing experiences, but I know that that guilt comes from me – never from him. And I truly appreciate how blessed and lucky I am to be able to do this and share it all with him and with you (even if it's just through sharing the stories of the escapes I have explored!)
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
(c) Pearl Howie 2015. All rights reserved.