From turning professional to finding out Brad Pitt is a fan, it’s been a smashing year for Aberdeen creative AJ Simpson since they claimed The Great Pottery Throw Down crown.
“It’s been an absolute whirlwind, I can’t believe it’s been a year already… it has been life-changing,” said AJ, who now has their own studio in Torry.
“I used to work part-time and try to juggle doing pottery on the side. Being able to do pottery full-time has made such a huge difference in my life, mentally and physically and I’m just so much happier.
“I’ve got my wonderful partner (Celda Mae Tyndall ) in working with me every day, we have our lovely dog, Leo, sleeping in the corner every day. It’s been great and I couldn’t have done that without being on the show.”
AJ excited to watch new series of The Great Pottery Throw Down
And as a new series of The Great Pottery Throw Down returns to Channel 4 this Sunday January 8, AJ is looking forward to settling in and enjoying the new intake of creatives hoping to pick up the prestigious title.
“I’m really excited to meet the new potters, see what they are like, what their backgrounds are, what they are up to and what they are going to make”, said AJ, who won the last series of The Great Pottery Throw Down after 10 nail-biting weeks.
Watching the show will stir up many memories for AJ – who admits they didn’t even expect to get a reply to their entry letter, let alone go on to win under the watchful eyes of judges Keith Brymer Jones and Rich Miller, plus host, Derry Girls star Siobhan McSweeney.
“Seeing Keith, Rich and Siobhan there and everyone in the space is going to be quite emotional.”
Millions of viewers watched AJ go from strength to strength in the last series, winning Potter Of The Week three times, with some amazing makes, from a ceramic Brig o’ Balgownie to a stunning otter lamp, to “creepy” gnomes exemplifying their “googly-eyed blobs” style of pottery.
‘Bizarre to think about Brad Pitt watching me on the telly’
It turned out one of those watching was Hollywood superstar Brad Pitt, who revealed in an interview last summer he is a huge fan of The Great Pottery Throw Down and has watched every series, including AJ’s success.
AJ said: “It was bizarre to think about Brad Pitt sitting back on an evening to relax by watching me on the telly. That was quite a funny thought.”
The potter’s popularity has lasted well beyond their run on The Great Pottery Throw Down. Pieces made by AJ are snapped up almost as quickly as they can make them, including buyers from the US where the series is a huge success.
“I’m struggling to keep up with the demand at the moment, which is a great position for me to be in,” said the potter, speaking in their studio surrounded by many of the pieces they made during the show – along with the stunning winner’s trophy.
“We had Christmas markets here in the studio and the response was astonishing. We had queues out the door, all the way down the stairs and into the car park. We had people here at 8.15am, even though we didn’t start until 10am. We had to limit people to one piece per person.”
AJ gets stopped on the street by fans of The Great Pottery Throw Down
And even just walking down the street, AJ is greeted by fans.
“I get people stopping me while I’m out shopping and saying ‘oh, The Great Pottery Throw Down,’ so people are still really interested in it. That’s nice because I’m such a blabbermouth and I love to talk about it.”
That success and recognition has allowed AJ the freedom to experiment with different pieces – such as biscuit jars, dinosaurs and salt pigs – but still keeping their trademark style.
“I can make things and I know it’s very likely going to sell, so that means I can be creative. I don’t need to make the same thing over and over, I can try new pieces,” said AJ.
“While (my style) is changing and developing all the time it is still keeping to the core of very childish, colourful, googly-eyes, happy faces, sad faces – it’s very expressive for me. If it makes me smile, I hope that it makes somebody else smile, too.”
Now AJ – who stays very much in touch with the other potters from the last series – is looking to the future and has plans to pass on their skills to the next generation of potters as well as be part of a studio collective.
AJ has plans to pass on skills with pottery classes
“We’re in the works for an Aberdeen Ceramic Studio and hoping to open in the summer and get some classes going and open-access workshops. This month I’m starting doing some one-to-ones from my studio a couple of times and that’s exciting for me,” said AJ, who is based at Deeside Artists Studios.
Away from the clay, AJ has another project in mind, close to their heart. Partner and fellow creative Celda, popped the question last year.
“No date set yet for the wedding – the big W word – unless someone comes along and pays for it all,” said AJ, laughing.
As the new series of The Great Pottery Throw Down gets underway, AJ has some advice for the class of 2023.
“Just have fun with it. I remember putting my all into it maybe a little too much and there were a couple of weeks when I wasn’t enjoying it as I was really stressing about getting it right,” they said.
“But I made my best work when I was just enjoying the atmosphere and enjoying being there and all this free clay to work with. So, yeah, just enjoy it.”
AJ talks about their ultimate ambition in the world of pottery
Life today is very different for AJ from how it was when the last series of The Great Pottery Throw Down aired its first episode some 12 months ago – which leads to the question of their ultimate ambition.
“Everything about the pottery world has just consumed my life. It’s so tactile, I can get my ideas and designs and everything that is in my head out there so quickly and instantly in clay. It’s a joy to work with.
“So my ultimate ambition is to keep doing this forever and keep doing what we love every day.”
To find out more about AJ’s work visit ajsimpsonceramics.com
You can watch the next series of The Great Pottery Throw Down on Channel 4 from Sunday January 8 at 7.45pm. You can watch previous series on All 4.
We followed AJ’s journey on The Great Pottery Throw Down. You can read all our articles here: