CHINA, May 14, 2010 - Zhang Zilin, the first Miss World to have grown up in Beijing, is still catching her breath after her whirlwind tour of duty as a high-profile beauty queen, one year after she handed on the crown to her successor.
Zhang, 26, was crowned Miss China in Beijing in October 2007 and therefore was entered in the Miss World pageant in Sanya, Hainan, at the end of that year.
"When I was watching the final round of the Miss World 2006, everyone was so stunning and elegant and I felt I was far away from them," Zhang remembers. "I know how lucky I am."
Zhang sat down to share some of her memories with METRO.
Q: Did you ever think that you would win?
A: I didn't expect that I would win on the night. It was my first international pageant experience.
In Miss World's history, there had never been a local candidate or a Chinese contestant who was crowned before me.
I had been training as a professional athlete ever since I was a kid and learned that sometimes the best contestants don't win competitions.
Q: How did you prepare for the competition?
A: I tried my best to prepare for it. When I was at school training for a sports game I was carried back to my dorm by other athletes because I didn't have any strength left.
Compared to that, I enjoyed this experience more.
Q: What did you enjoy most during the pageant?
A: Since I was the local contestant, I helped some of them get mobile SIM cards and other little things to make their lives easier in China.
The other contestants were beautiful and nice women from all around the world. We were of the same age and we became instant friends.
I made many friends through the pageant and I still keep in touch with some of them.
Q: Did you still have the chance to hang out with your regular friends after you became Miss World?
A: Yes, I did. I have a few close friends from before I had my success in the pageant.
They were planning to hold a birthday party for me a couple days ago. I am still the same person to them, who will go shopping and chat with them.
We don't go to nightclubs very much but we hang out in coffee shops and restaurants in Wudaokou. We started checking out the shopping in that area when we were students.
Q: Did you go back to work as a model after you finished your obligations with Miss World?
A: No, I stopped modeling after I was crowned Miss World. I would love to participate in some charity events or help others like when I was on the Miss World tour.
I visited all five continents as Miss World. The most memorable experience was when I went to London as Miss World and visited some sick and disabled children there.
Q: Will you act in movies and dramas?
A: It could be another exciting experience for me but I don't have a specific plan yet.
I think I will publish a book first. My book is about how to take care of your skin and weight. Many fans asked about my experiences losing weight and maintaining a healthy life. I think I will put all my tips into the book and, hopefully, it will help people.
I plan to study overseas later. I am considering a social work program at Columbia University.
Q: A model's private sexual video was released online recently. What do you think about it?
A: The model is from the same company as me. I think that could be damaging to her life. I don't believe that she released the video online to gain popularity. She was a victim in the case. The modeling industry is not as dirty as many people think. Go to work, then go home. Our work is simple like that.But I think women should be careful about their privacy and learn how to protect themselves.
Q: What have you done since passing back the title?
A: I have participated in many commercials and charity events. I was the face of L'Oreal, which enabled me to get on their billboard and TV advertisements. I also worked with Swarovski and other famous international fashion brands.
Actually, I only choose brands I believe in, because I will personally promote the products to my audience. In that way, I should act responsibly.
I have also taken part in several charity events. Next week I will go to LA to raise money for Variety, a charity for children. Additionally, I have just recorded a public-interest advertisement for kids with autism. Working for those that need the most help gives me a kick.