Leading  the first float at the famous Rio Carnival this year was a “nice Jewish girl from north London”, who has spoken about being chosen for the role.

Samantha Mortner, 37, who once lived in Kentish Town and spent 12 years as a PR executive, told how she moved to Brazil in 2006, learned samba and ended up at the head of world’s most famous revelry.

Now called Samantha Flores after her first marriage, her hard work for the past year all came to fruition on Friday, as she danced her float along the city’s strip in front of crowds of 90,000.

Dressed in a bikini woven with 12,000 tiny shimmering stones, with 500 pheasant feathers adorning her headdress, Flores led the Sambadrome in “the biggest party on earth,” telling the BBC that she is just “a nice Jewish girl from north London”.

The country’s leading samba schools were full of admiration for Flores, whose feat has made her the first non-Brazilian ever to lead the Rio Carnival.

“It’s like you’re a popstar with 90,000 people standing up and screaming for you,” she said. “Of course it’s not for you, it’s for the samba school, but the sensation is unique.”

Flores went to Rio on holiday just before the financial crisis and fell in love. She began working for a non-governmental organisation (NGO) teaching English and gave extra tuition to a student in return for the student teaching her samba.

Years of hard work led to her playing the role of Yemanja, goddess of the sea, the second most important behind the ‘rainha da bateria,’ or queen, who leads the group of drummers – the heartbeat of the parades.

The 1km parade, taking each performer 80 minutes, lasts until Monday 19 February.