Sunday, May 3, 2009 | 2:09 p.m.
Hugh Hefner came to Vegas last night to confirm the worst kept secret in recent Playboy history: Ida Ljungqvist is the 2009 Playmate of the Year.
While the official announcement was not made until last night’s private dinner reception at the Palms, word of Ljungqvist’s winning the title leaked more than a week ago.
Prior to receiving the distinction last night, the 27-year-old brunette was otherwise known as Miss March 2008.
She said Hefner informed her of her win back in March during a Sunday night movie night at the Playboy Mansion.
The slim, Tanzanian-born brunette first thanked God, then Hefner, for awarding her the distinction.
Along with the title of 50th Playmate of the Year, Ljungqvist was given $100,000 in prize money, a new Mazda6 car, and a big bottle of Patron.
“It is understood that you cannot drink this bottle of Patron and drive that car,” Hefner joked from the podium.
He called Ljungqvist “truly unique.”
Hefner admitted that he had been worried that the cold he had been struggling with during the days leading up to the award ceremony might prevent him from attending. Thankfully, the 83-year-old magnate recovered in time to for the annual event.
Girlfriends Crystal Harris, 22, and 19-year-old twin sisters Karissa and Kristina Shannon, joined him at his table, while“Celebrity Apprentice” contestant and 2001 Playmate of the Year, Brande Roderick, hosted the reception.
About 50 former Playmates of the Month also attended, as did Hefner’s ex-girlfriend, Holly Madison.
Coincidentally, Madison had her Playboy bunny tattoo removed earlier this week.
Yet there was no sign of any bad blood between her and Hef or any of the others last night. She jokingly wore Kayla Collins’ August 2008 Playmate of the Month nametag and was all smiles as she worked the room.
Madison and 2007 Playmate of the Year, Sara Jean Underwood, are credited with discovering Ljungqvist in 2007.
The slim, 5-foot-4 beauty was working at a Bebe clothing store on Rodeo Drive when she was first spotted by Underwood.
“It was while she was working there that she was spotted,” Hefner recounted.
Ljungqvist was first spotted by Underwood, who told Madison about the Bebe employee’s Playboy potential.
After that, “Holly asked Ida, with the ‘Girls Next Door’ TV cameras rolling, if she would like to pose for Playboy,” Hefner said. “And the rest, as they say, is history.”
Ljungqvist quit her job at Bebe a month later and appeared on the cover of Playboy in March of last year.
She said her parents were hardly proud when she told them she was going to bare all for Playboy.
“My mother didn’t speak to me for a month!” she said.
Still, she said her parents eventually came around.
“They saw my first pictorial and they realized that it is beautiful,” she said.
While the 27-year-old does hope to parlay her enhanced Playmate status into an acting career, she plans to keep her clothes on for now on.
“As far as being naked, I’m done with that,” she asserted.
Her Playmate of the Year dinner was originally planned to be held around the pool at Palms Place but organizers decided on Friday to move the event indoors as the forecast called for gusty winds and a 50-percent chance of rain.
As a result, the private function was moved to the Palms Ballroom, where guests enjoyed a three-course meal while Palms owner George Maloof, then Hefner, addressed the crowd.
Maloof, who fondly remembers discovering his first Playboy back in third grade (“My older brother had it under his bed”) has dated a number of Playmates over the years.
He declined to say how many of his exes have appeared on the pages of Playboy, however, or how many of them were at the function last night.
During his opening remarks, the Palms’ reigning resident playboy mused over the repeated suggestion that he is “the next Hef.”
“There’s only one Hef, and that’s Hef,” he said.
When it came time for the one and only to take to the stage, the crowd rose from their seats and gave him a standing ovation.
Hefner called it “a very, very special, special, special day.”
The meal started with a salad topped with walnuts, apples and blue cheese, while the main course featured steak and crab cakes accompanied by asparagus and mashed potatoes. Chef Kerry Simon’s signature junk food platter – which includes homemade cookies, cupcakes, caramel corn, cotton candy, Sno Balls, and Rice Krispy squares – was served for dessert.
Following dinner, many of the VIPs joined the recently-crowned Playmate of the Year in Playboy Club’s VIP section.
While the Playmates were, for the most part, right at home in the magazine’s namesake nightspot, others in the entourage seemed rather out of place.
Ljungqvist’s entourage included many middle-aged people affiliated with her non-profit of choice, Empowerment Works, and several members of her church.
Still, the crowd seemed to enjoy the mixed company.
After making the most of what she described as a “pretty frickin’ awesome evening,” Ljungqvist was escorted to her suite at Palms Place at 1 a.m.
She and her guests gathered at Simon this morning where they reconvened over brunch.
Previous notable Playmates of the Year include Jenny McCarthy (1994) and Anna Nicole Smith (1993). The first Playmate of the Year was Ellen Stratton, who was given the title in 1960.
The bicentennial Playmate of the Year celebration was the first time the award reception was not held at the Playboy Mansion. In previous years, Hefner announced the year’s top bunny during a special luncheon at his iconic home base near Beverly Hills.
Palms Casino Resort has come a long way since its "Real World" debut in 2002. The boutique property features three distinct towers and a diverse mix of bars and restaurants across a 95,000-square-foot casino.
Palms, which features more than 1,200 rooms and fantasy suites, is currently undergoing a multi-million dollar transformation that will encompass an Ivory Tower room and suite redesign, new culinary additions, re-imagined gaming spaces and new, distinctive nightlife experiences.
In addition to newly designed rooms, during the first phase of the renovation, Palms will welcome Heraea, a high-energy American restaurant and lounge, and XISHI, a pan-Asian restaurant and lounge.
Fantasy Suites include the Hardwood Suite, the only hotel room in the world with its own basketball court.
Other amenities include the all-new Cantor Gaming® race and sports book, one of the few sports books in Las Vegas to include a poker room; SOCIAL; Scarlet; Chocolat Bistro; tonic bar; ghostbar; Pearl Concert Theater; Moon Nightclub; N9NE Steakhouse; Nove Italiano; Simon Restaurant & Lounge; Palms Pool & Bungalows; Kim Vō Salon; Drift Spa & Hammam; Brenden Theatres, a 14-theatre cineplex and more than 60,000 square-feet of meeting space.