Tuesday, May 5, 2009 | 1:54 p.m.
*Check out this story with accompanying photos at VegasDeLuxe.com.*
She’s on top of the world as the most admired and looked at woman in the Playboy empire. Ida Ljungqvist has joined me for brunch hours after winning $100,000, a brand new car and the title of the 50th anniversary Playmate of the Year -- and the first thing she confesses is that there is no boyfriend and her love life is barren!
We’ll come back to that shocker in a moment, but first she explains that she stayed out late the previous night celebrating -- and she’s hurting from the partying!
Click HERE for our full coverage of the Hugh Hefner announcement at the unveiling ceremony in the Palms this past weekend.
“It’s slowly sinking in that I won. It’s all a bit of a blur. It’s a flood of emotion. It feels beautiful. I love it, and it is a very exciting feeling, but it was never a dream of mine. In fact, I didn’t even really know what it was. I had seen the bunny head all over the world as an international symbol, but I didn’t know what it was or what it meant in terms of winning,” she told me at chef Kerry Simon’s restaurant Simon in Palms Place.
Ida had just arrived from her special guest suite, where she had called her parents in Dar Es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania. “They were very pleased for me. They thought it was good that I had won the car because I had been rear ended twice since January and wanted a new car,” Ida said, laughing.
For the guys at the brunch, I was the luckiest man in the room -- because every one of them was ogling her! I kept it strictly business! She continued: “I was only in Beverly Hills working at the Bebe fashion boutique on Rodeo Drive for five months before this all started. I had been in school at the Fashion Institute and had finished management training.”
One of her customers was 2007 Playmate of the Year Sara Underwood, who brought then Playboy Photo Editor Holly Madison into the store to see if she had the potential as a centerfold Playmate. “Sarah was a good customer of mine, and we had a friendship. I helped her pick out a couple of things, and she said I’d make a good Playmate,” Ida told me.
“I remember watching The Girls Next Door with Holly, Kendra and Bridget, and thought it would be fun. I had no idea what a Playmate was, so after she explained and invited me up to the Mansion, I met Hef and the girls and thought this was something I might want to try and see where it takes me.”
Ida continued: “I was born in Tanzania and grew up in East Africa and Southeast Asia. I never stayed in a place for more than three years. My father, who is Swedish, works for UNICEF, so they move him around about every two years. I’d moved to London to study business, but the weather there was cold, and I wanted a challenge and moved into fashion. I also wanted a warmer country and decided I would move to Florida or Los Angeles. I decided California and got my fashion degree, so I have been here six years.”
I said that she was both brains and beauty. Ida laughed back: “Brains first, and then I’ll take the beauty. Playboy is an American icon and symbol. I said I am in America, I have been offered this position, and I will try it. They told me that once I was in the magazine, I could become Playmate of the Year and win the prizes. I said I am going to be a damn good Playmate and win them. I really wanted it at that point. It is an honor. I am the first African-born Playmate ever … in 50 years, and it is an honor to be chosen. It is an American symbol, but to have me as a non-American, that’s an extra responsibility.”
Surprisingly, Ida is 27, brown-eyed and only 5’4” -- and she is obviously not a blonde. “My body type is very different from the normal Playmate. So are my features, and Playboy is known for blondes. So it is nice they are mixing it up and including girls that are curvy,” she added. Ida is not the oldest Playmate of the Year to date: Tiffany Fallon was 30 when she was crowned with the title.
Ida plans to turn the big win into a benefit for her charity www.empowermentworks.org in providing resources to people willing to work on building sustainable communities. She has a Mother Theresa orphanage she supports outside Dar Es Salaam, in Morogoro, the region where her mother is from.
“I might be the first Playmate to take on this kind of charity work, but it comes easy, as it is so engrained in my being. I don’t know what winning will do for me, but I will take the opportunities it presents -- maybe acting and modeling,” she said. Ida hopes to be able to work for her sponsors from Las Vegas and has two days lined up here for Patron. “I love Vegas. I have been here many times,” she said.
I asked about her love life now that she’s one of the most looked at women in the world. She laughed again: “It’s barren. It is a drought. There is nothing going on. I had a Chihuahua that sleeps in bed with me. She’s a wonderful companion -- a 5-pound hunk of love. But I have no time for that now for a year. My dream is still to become a designer and work in the fashion industry. I will move to New York one day and work in the design aspect of the business. I really hope that happens as a result of becoming Playmate of the Year.”
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground. Read more of Robin's stories at VegasDeLuxe.com.