AJ was one of the favourites to win last year’s competition right from the start, with the judges and viewers at home soon won over by her partnership with new professional, Kai Widdrington.
She made it into the final three, alongside John Whaite and partner Johannes Radebe, as well as eventual champions, EastEnders’ Rose Ayling-Ellis and Giovanni Pernice.
But while she was in full swing preparing for the finale, she suffered a leg injury which forced her to wave goodbye to the process.
In a new interview, AJ has addressed her sadness over having to quit, admitting: ‘I cried for days.’
She went on to describe it as ‘a really major injury’ and added: ‘I couldn’t accept it. I was never the kid in a cast at school, I’ve never really been injured before. I had this sudden realisation that my body couldn’t do what I wanted it to. It was devastating.
‘Now I look back and feel bad that I was so hard on myself. Yes, my body let me down, but it learnt all those dances and carried me through to the final.’
In a statement at the time, the BBC series said: ‘Sadly due to injury AJ and Kai have had to withdraw from #Strictly and won’t compete in tomorrow’s final.
‘We want to thank them for 13 incredible weeks on the show and the pure joy they brought to the dance floor every week.’
AJ noted that the difficult experience taught her to ‘go easier’ on herself, adding to i News: ‘I’m still recovering all these months later and I’m getting there, but I still can’t run on my foot as well as I used to. As mum always told me, I’m going to have to be patient.’
Those sound like very wise words from AJ’s mum.
Meanwhile, AJ has been having a predictably fantastic 2022, having acted as the UK’s official Eurovision spokesperson, and will also be back on-screen with Mo Gilligan for The Big Breakfast.
The pair revived the show after 19 years for Channel 4’s Black To Front day last September but it was recently revealed there would be more to come from the duo, after huge demand from fans.
AJ and Mo will be presenting live from The Big Breakfast house every Saturday morning from August, with the Strictly finalist sharing: ‘There really is nothing like The Big Breakfast on our screens.
‘I loved hosting it last year and I am looking forward to being back at the house to kick off summer weekends on this now award-winning show.’
Mo added: ‘I love being part of this incredible history-making show.
‘The whole team are so spectacular, and I have so much fun working with AJ – she’s one of the best in the business. And now a live summer series? LET’S GO!’