The year was 1960 when Playboy founder Hugh Hefner began what was to become a celebrated tradition. With JFK running for president and the Cold War in full gear, Hef was busy selecting the Playmate of the Year. His was the enviable job of choosing the über-beauty embodying his publication, from 12 breath-stealing knockouts who had appeared as centerfolds from January to December.
Fast forward to the present and Hef’s eye for beauty – and promotion – is as sharp as ever. The latest Playmate of the Year, Ida Ljungqvist (pronunciation: Lindquist) is both a stunner and a groundbreaker. Born in Tanzania to a Swedish father and African mother, she becomes the first African born Playmate of the Year. Considering 2009 yielded America its first multi-racial president, Playboy is making sure not to be left behind.
Ms. Ljungqvist, as charming as she is pretty, was surprised to take the crown – okay, the ears – because she wasn’t born in America.
The daughter of a UNICEF employee father, Ida is an open-minded individual who credits her thinking to growing up traveling the world. A free spirit, she believes life should be fun; that happiness is choice and when it comes to charity the most important thing is following your passion.
As Playboy Playmate of the Year, Ida considers herself fortunate even though the perks – like potential movie roles – are accompanied by pesky things like rumors and gossip. For example, contrary to online reports, she is not in the middle of a bitter divorce battle. In fact, her divorce is old news. Alert: Playmate Ljungqvist hasn’t been married since February!
Going forward, Ida is optimistic. On the relationship front, her goal is to meet someone who is real, has a sense of humor and a life. She credits her past experiences with men as an asset in finding Mr. Right. Between her looks and personality, there are sure to be many guys vying for that role.
(Backup Player: Including IE)
Chris Yandek: We know a lot about your outer beauty, but who are you personally as an individual and person in society?
Ida Ljungqvist: “Good question! Love it! I am a girl who believes that life should not be hard. In fact, it should be very fun. Enjoy the time that you have here and that happiness is a choice. I make my choice. I think I’ve made good choices so far cause I’m pretty satisfied. That’s who I am.”
CY: How would you describe your inner beauty and the person you are inside? Who are you? Who are you inside? Who is this individual besides the beautiful person that we see?
IL: “I think that you meet a beautiful person, you look at them outside and you have to get to know them, listen to what they have to say. Just what’s important to me is being happy, being joyous, feeling of service, feeling gratitude, enjoying life and I think it really does show in a person’s face whether or not they love what they’re doing. I definitely love what I’m doing. I have great friends. I have good family. I enjoy my job. I enjoy life. I’ve taken chances. You get rewards when you take chances and you’re bold.”
CY: What are your ultimate goals going forward, professionally? What are the things that are important?
IL: “Oh, yeah. I’ll take them one at a time if that’s ok?”
CY: Yeah. Sure. Go ahead!
IL “Thanks Chris! Going forward, I was just crowned Playmate of The Year by Hef [Hugh Hefner]. So for now I’m going to settle into my role as Playmate of the Year, launching parties, interviews, traveling as much as I can. I just really enjoy my title. Towards the end of my reign, obviously I’ve been offered a couple of movie roles, which I’ve been auditioning for and I’ll probably take on some of those challenges and dares as you could say, see where that takes me.
Ultimately of course I’ll finish my Masters. As a world traveler, always traveling my whole life, I feel that it’s the urge to move again. I’ve been in Los Angeles coming up on six years now, so I’m feeling the urge to travel maybe by the East coast. This going around from city to city and doing the parties and meeting people was definitely helping me find my next place to travel to.”
CY: Your father worked for UNICEF. You’ve been taken around the world to so many different countries. How have you applied that to your daily life by all the different things you’ve seen across the world?
IL: “I think that when you grow up in the way that I have – I know here in America there are a lot of army brats, you guys call yourselves. That’s not my word. But army brats, parents who are in the Embassy or the foreign services, you can’t help but to love people, but to be open to different ideas, but to love new cultures. You want to try new things. So for me, I don’t know any other way to live than to be pretty open minded. Just try new things. I feel that’s what I bring to the table, a worldview. I’m not scared to go out and try something at least once within reason. I think that helps.”
CY: America is one of these great melting pots on earth as we’ve been talking about. You’re a multiracial woman and our current president is a multiracial child. Do you feel you have any kinship, relatability to our current president Barack Obama?
IL: “Our president, wonderful as it is, it’s definitely an exciting time for everyone. It’s just a phenomenal year. It’s just dreams come true. We’ve been talking a lot about mixing it up, but when you see miracles actually happen, it’s more like wow! This can happen. What can happen next? You know? That’s what I feel more than anything this era has ushered in. It’s that wow. You know? Things can happen. Anything can happen. Just be open-minded. Where do you want this to take you? So that’s how I feel.”
CY: So on a personal level, here you are as the first African born Playmate of the Year. How does that feel?
IL: “Ok, that was the biggest pressure. It wasn’t my ethnicity. It wasn’t my physical features because obviously Hef has been doing this for many years and he’s like, ‘Ok, Ida’s gonna be it this year.’ I was like, whoa! Really? It’s the 50th anniversary of this great tradition Playmate of the Year and he’s actually chosen somebody who wasn’t born in the U.S. I am how do I say it? A transplant. That was the biggest thing for me. It was like, oh my goodness! I’m not American. This is an American brand. He’s a living legend. He’s an American legend. How do I justify and live up to the other women who’ve gone before me? That’s been the greatest honor for me.”
CY: Looking forward, you’re very involved with social causes and philanthropic work. Why don’t you tell me about that and why that’s so important you?
IL: “My charity of choice is called Empowerment Works. You can find them on
www.empowermentworks.org. They’re an umbrella organization, which means they deal with different charities under one label. I understand that with the economy being what it is, people still want to give and they are very generous. Americans are so absolutely generous, but it has been a little bit tight. What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to cut down the work and try and use the money as properly as possible. The wonderful thing about Empowerment Works is that they’re so many different sections of it. You can do child welfare, helping single mothers, you can do it here in the U.S. supporting local artists, you can do it in Africa as well.
So whatever it is that is really important to you whether it’s HIV AIDS research, helping wounded soldiers. We have a whole bunch of programs that we do as well. If we don’t have what you want we want to hook you up with someone, an organization that speaks to what you’re passionate about. I always feel that if people are passionate about a cause they need to follow that. They shouldn’t be talked into doing something else. If something is really on your heart, support that cause.
It doesn’t matter what you give whether it’s money or your time because we have a bunch of programs that are geared toward kids. More than anything these children need people to be there and help them with their homework and be there to play games with them, just sports or something. You can donate what you have and it really…really does matter, it makes a difference. So it’s really about what turns the person on honestly. Sorry, but no better choice of words and helping them find that.”
CY: There have been a lot of rumors, gossip reports about your pending divorce. Is there anything you’d like to clear up?
IL: “Yes! Oh my goodness Chris! Thank you! I’m not married anymore. I was divorced earlier on this year. Was it in February we signed our papers? We don’t have, me and my ex-husband are completely divorced. We absolutely have no business dealings together whatsoever. And anything that’s said, it comes with the territory. People say, you have a little money, you’ve gotten a little success.
They’re always going to be jealous people popping out of the woodwork, claiming all sorts of stuff they cannot prove or saying mean things about a person just because they look different or because they knew me on such and such. My divorce is over and I would really like it to just be that way. Bonnie and I have moved on. We’re very happy.”
CY: Is it hard because people are going to put these things out there that might not have happened in your marriage? You’re divorced. Your life goes on, but is it personally hard because you’re just like, damn, I’m going through one of the best moments of my life and all these things are coming out about me?
IL: “Yes! But the only thing is a good girlfriend of mine Carrie Stevens, who’s also a Playmate, we’re very close, we’re like sisters. She told me, ‘Ida, what are you willing to do to be successful? You’re gonna shrink away at the sign of resistance or someone stupid saying something about you then I mean it’s just how far are you willing to go? God doesn’t give you something you cannot handle.’
I feel this is a test for me. If I can continue being brave and I can continue being happy and good this is going to prove that I can handle a lot on my shoulders and therefore I can be more successful. I can handle more success.
If I was a person, like if I’m talking to you and you’re going through what someone said mean about you on the internet, I would say the same thing. I would uplift you and say this is just going to make you stronger and this means you can carry more, so go ahead and do your thing.”
CY: Is it going to be hard dating men in particular in the future because you’re wondering hmm, does he just want to be with me because I have a great title or is it because of who I really am? Is that going to be difficult?
IL: “No. I don’t think so because I feel that I’m a very intuitive person and I’ve lived a little. I’m 27. I’ll be 28 in September. So the thing of it is I’m a really good judge of character and I can pretty much pick up when somebody wants to be like you said in the public eye cause they want to date a Playmate or whatever. I was a Playmate before I got Playmate of the Year.”
CY: Yeah. I know.
IL: “I’ve honed my skills.”
CY: Do you ever get frustrated? To me, the way we look at society and how superficial society has become, men, I apologize can be very shallow as you very well know and they say, ‘Oh she’s hot. She looks great.’ Do you ever feel like you run into situations where he’s just talking to me because I look good? He doesn’t care about who I really am. Have you run into that?
IL: “Oh absolutely…absolutely. But the key is not to give it too much energy. If you find a person like that, you respect them and you politely excuse yourself and make your way to the better feeling table. You must do things that make you feel good, always. Everybody knows that because everybody has the sixth sense. You can tell a good person from someone whose low energy and just trust that and go with your gut.”
CY: So for the guys out there, what are you looking for going forward?
IL: “Sense of humor, have a life. There is no better turn on that somebody who’s just real you know? Real and happy.”
CY: What are some of the things you ultimately want to do going forward? I know you mentioned the possibility of some movies and some things like that and finish up a Masters degree, but anything else?
IL: “Yes, that and my charity of course. Traveling more, just getting to know people. Just check up on http://www.playboy.com. I’ll be around the country doing my appearances and I’d definitely like to hear from your listeners and see what they think. Come out and say hi. Don’t be shy.”
CY: Ida, it was a pleasure speaking with you. I hope somewhere we can have a conversation in the future and really enjoyed this conversation and I’m glad you got to set the record straight on some things.
IL: “Thank you so much Chris!”