Playboy introduces its 50th Playmate of the Year: Ida Ljungqvist

Ida Ljungqvist Hugh Hefner

himself uttered a "wow" as he greeted her, according to reports.

Ljungqvist is the 50th Playmate of the Year, and the magazine's first African-European to have the honor. Hefner called the 27-year-old Swedish/African stunner - 2008's Miss March - "truly unique."

"She was born to a Tanzanian mother and a Swedish father and she traveled the globe while her father worked for UNICEF. She is fluent in three languages - English, Swedish and Swahili," he said.

Ljungqvist dedicated the honor to her late mother and said she almost turned down the first offer to pose for the magazine.

"This was never a dream for me; I didn't even know what Playboy was and I was scared at first," she admitted. "I have a lot of over-achiever in me so I am self-critical. But after I met Hef and saw how beautifully they portray women I was really excited. This experience has inspired me to broaden my horizons, to take chances in life."

And speaking of taking chances, Hef's former girlfriend,

Holly Madison Crystal Harris

, on the red carpet.

(We hear that Madison had her Playboy bunny tattoo removed last week.)

Madison and 2007 Playmate of the Year,

Sara Jean Underwood

, are credited with discovering Ljungqvist in 2007 when Underwood spotted the 5-foot-4 beauty working at a Bebe clothing store on Rodeo Drive.

Underwood told Madison about her and “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.

The 27-year-old hopes being Playmate of the Year opens doors for her; she'd love to act.

And from now on, she says, she's keeping her clothes on in photos.