King Momo: from bank teller to Carnival king

The undisputed heavy-weight champion of the Rio Carnival for the past five years, Milton Rodrigues da Silva wants to keep his crown until 2016, when the city hosts the Olympics.

Da Silva -- better known as "King Momo" -- weighs in at 150 kilos (330 pounds) and plans to use every ounce of his talent to remain the symbol of Carnival's excess through the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Games.

On Friday, he will receive the keys to the Brazilian beach city from Mayor Eduardo Paes, at the official launch of the annual five-day celebration of samba, drink, dance and skimpy, figure-hugging costumes.

And when the party descends on the official Sambodrome on Sunday and Monday nights, he will preside over the mayhem like a medieval Lord of Misrule.

Without his colorful costume, jewels, sash and white-lacquered shoes, Da Silva looks no different from the thousands of Cariocas, or Rio residents, who throng suburban trains daily.

On the ride from the Madureira suburb where he lives, he gingerly picked his way through the crowd.

"Sometimes people have doubts but generally they recognize me as we get closer to Carnival, because I get more exposure in the press and on television," the former bank teller told AFP.

He got caught up in the spirit of Carnival in 1995 when he began working with the Portela Samba School, one of the many Rio associations which produce the floats and dance numbers that grace the Sambodrome.

"As a child, I did not like Carnival. Samba, well, a little, but when I discovered this world, I fell in love with it," he added.

But his rise to the top was an uphill struggle. He first competed for the title in 2003 but won only five years later. Last year, he was picked for the fifth time in a row, pocketing a $9,800 (7,250 euro) prize.

"So far no one has defeated me," he crowed. "Being King means being at ease expressing oneself, having a Carnival spirit and samba dancing skills. Unlike before, being heavy is not a must."

Despite his claim that girth is no longer a prerequisite for his master of ceremonies job, Da Silva is certainly on the heavy end of the scale despite the rigors of his grueling party schedule.

As King of Carnival he must hold forth at private events, street parties and more importantly at the sumptuous night parades he will open at the Sambodrome, the Samba parade ground designed by the late Oscar Niemeyer.

The climax of the Carnival will feature Brazil's top 12 samba schools competing on floats packed with dancers wearing huge headgear, feathers, sequins, body paint and little else.

"I just love Carnival. To be on the avenue opening this festival, bringing this joy, give me goosebumps," he said with emotion.

But he added, chuckling: "I am so tired that in the train I don't read nor do I listen to music, I just sleep on my feet."

When invited to an event after work, he carries his costume and crown in a suitcase. And when he arrives back home in Madureira, he is greeted with a kiss and a hug by his four-year-old daughter Sophia.

In addition to his wife and Sophia, King Momo lives with his parents who run a little store selling beer and ice cream.

In his pink-walled living room filled with Sophia's toys, he showed off his latest crown and scepter. "I have a whole collection," he said with pride.

As to his plans when his Carnival reign ends, the king said his dream is to be a contestant in the Big Brother Brazil reality show.