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WATCH: What AJ did next… Aberdeen’s Great Pottery Throw Down winner talks plans and demands

Far from the bright lights of The Great Pottery Throw Down set, there is a wee studio nestling in a complex of workshops hard by the River Dee in Torry, yards from fishhouses and industrial units.

Up a flight of stairs at Deeside Artists Studios, along a long corridor, chap on the door to be met with a cheery “just coming” and then there’s AJ, off the telly and in the flesh.

Ushered into the one-room space – every surface crammed with half-finished mugs, blob-like figures, tubs of glaze and bags of clay –  with a huge smile and friendly chatter, it is clear AJ Simpson is every bit as nice in person as on The Great Pottery Throw Down.

AJ Simpson in their Torry studio where they are now delighted to be a full-time potter after winning The Great Pottery Throw Down. Photos by Scott Baxter.

It’s just as clear winning the series on Sunday night – watched by millions of viewers across the country – hasn’t quite sunk in yet.

“I thought it It would have done by now because it definitely felt like a dream when we were filming the final,” said the 22-year-old, who graduated from Gray’s School of Art last year. “Now I’m getting some feedback from people who have watched the show, it’s starting to sink in.”

AJ proud to be a full-time potter thanks to Great Pottery Throw Down

That said, the reality of winning the hugely popular Channel 4 series has already made a significant difference to AJ’s life.

“Actually, I just quit my day job, so I can do this full-time,” said a clearly proud AJ, as they pulled on an apron to sit down at their potter’s wheel, ready to throw a piece as we chat.

“I was working at an outdoor clothing shop while the show was airing, and I actually started to get recognised. It got to the point where I was thinking ‘I could be making pots right now’ because people were coming into the shop to buy clothes then asking me for pots.

AJ Simpson with one of their quirky, fun blob figures, with signature googly eyes.

“It’s crazy and it does feel a bit like a dream. It’s what I’ve always wanted since I was a kid. I’ve always wanted to have my own business and be my own boss.”

AJ is now planning to not only create their own pieces – their signature blob figures and mugs, bowls and other pieces adorned with googly eyes – but join forces with other potters and pass on their own skills by teaching others.

“I’m working on setting up Aberdeen Ceramic Studio with other potters and we’re just looking at properties now,” said AJ.

“We hope to get it set up for classes in evenings and weekends, then during the day other potters can come in who need a space to work.”

AJ never even expected a call back from The Great Pottery Throw Down

This bright future all started with AJ deciding to enter the Channel 4 series, encouraged by one of their lecturers at Gray’s School Of Art, Matt Wilcock – who just happens to win The Great Pottery Throw Down in 2015, before moving to Aberdeen.

“Matt messaged me during lockdown when we are at uni saying I should think about applying,” said AJ.

AJ hard at work on the wheel in their Torry studio.

“I thought I had nothing else on, I’d been stuck at home for ages and it might be a good opportunity to meet new people. But I never expected to even get a phone call back.”

However, the call did come and AJ found themselves on national television, growing from strength to strength over the 10-week series.

Week after week they impressed judges Keith Brymer Jones and Rich Miller, with pieces ranging from “horror gnomes” to a ceramic Brig o’ Balgownie, a knight-inspired urinal, to a garden totem reflecting their life.

Three times Potter Of The Week, five times winner of the show’s second challenge – an unprecedented run of success according to judge Keith – and ultimately picking up the victor’s trophy.

AJ Simpson with the winner’s trophy after smashing it to win The Great Pottery Throw Down 2022.

AJ said: “It was weird because you are in this little pottery bubble the whole time. I don’t think I realised how well it was going until I watched it back. Once it was condensed so much I thought:  ‘You know what, I actually did quite well.

Support at home and from across the country was source of joy for AJ

“The experience was totally magical. I think it’s one of the best experiences of my life.”

AJ was overwhelmed by support during the series, not just from their family – mum Debbie, dad Richard and sister Roseanna – and partner Celda Mae, but also from viewers and the public with positive and encouraging messages on social media. That continues even now the series is finished.

“I’ve been getting messages from people all across the country, I even had somebody from New Zealand message to say they like my pottery. I’ve never had this sort of reach before so it’s great. Anything that gives me an excuse to play with mud more.”

AJ and their partner Celda in the studio at Deemouth Artist Studios in Torry.

While it was important for AJ to fly the flag for the non-binary community, they didn’t want a song and dance about it during the run of The Great Pottery Throw Down.

“I was asked if I wanted to talk about it on the show and was like ‘no I really want it to be normalised, because it is normal’. I wanted people to see it in a light where it wasn’t made a big deal out of,” they said.

As we talked, AJ almost effortlessly transformed a lump of clay into a bowl shape, ready to be turned into a mug, complete with googly-eyes. Those eyes also feature on AJ’s hallmark pieces.

Now AJ’s signature pieces are selling out within minutes

“During lockdown, I started making these blob figures and they’ve kind of taken over my studio really. It’s turned into a signature style,” they said.

“But I’ve also been making mugs and bowls, a big old urn-pot thing with a blob on top, I’ve been making dinosaur blobs. One of the potters gave me the idea of making wall-mounted ones, like heads on a wall sort of thing – but with googly eyes.”

AJ’s mugs are hugely popular – especially after winning The Great Pottery Throw Down.

AJ’s work has previously been available at craft events and other outlets and is now on a website shop they have just set up – with demand already soaring.

“I put up 12 blobs for sale the other week and they sold out in a minute,” said AJ, who is working flat out to meet demand.

Asked about keeping in touch with the other Great Pottery Throw Down contestants, AJ reveals they had an unexpected catch up with them when all 12 of them travelled up to Aberdeen to watch Sunday’s final with AJ and their family.

Your chance to get your hands on a mug made by AJ for a P&J reader

“I had no idea they were coming up, my parents and Miles (a fellow contestant) organised it all behind my back. I thought I was going out for dinner with my parents and we were just ordering food when all the potters came in. I just about had a heart attack, but we had a great time.”

AJ made one of their signature-style mugs as a giveaway for a P&J reader.

As they put the finishing touches to the mug on the potter’s wheel, AJ had a message for everyone who supported them through their journey on The Great Pottery Throw Down.

“Just a big thank you. I was overwhelmed, in a good way with the response. Being on national television is quite scary, but when everyone is messaging you and is being so lovely, it made it really easy for me and a really positive experience.”

And, as for that mug AJ was working on… well, you have a chance to get your hands on it.

AJ was creating it as a giveaway to a P&J reader. All you have to do is head over to this article to find the form to enter – it couldn’t be simpler.

Good luck!