August 25, 1980 12:00 PM

She hasn’t a drop of royal blood in her veins, but Barbara de Portago has lived like a princess nonetheless. As the stepdaughter of Gérald van der Kemp, recently retired curator of Versailles, Barbara grew up amidst the opulence of the palace built by Louis XIV outside Paris. By the time she was 6, Barbara was making small talk with Rockefellers, Rothschilds, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Pablo Picasso and André Malraux, who, Barbara recalls, “said I looked like Mademoiselle de Fontanges, one of Louis XIV’s mistresses. Frankly,” says the 5’9″, gray-eyed blonde, “I’ve always thought I looked like Marie Antoinette.”

At age 13, Barbara was giving formal dinners at Versailles, and at 17—after two years at the Sorbonne majoring in Egyptology—she eloped with Anthony, the 18th Marquis de Portago. They were divorced in 1978, after a reported $240,000 settlement for Barbara, and remain friends. “Tony is a delightful boy,” she says, “but I don’t know what he does. He travels most of the time…it’s very vague.”

Not that 24-year-old Barbara’s precise occupation is much less so. Though she insists she never stays out late at parties or discos, she has—through international connections dating back to her childhood and boundless charm and ambition—become a fixture in New York society, a city she moved to four years ago. It is her success as a fund raiser that has earned Barbara recurring mention in the society columns. She probably inherited the skill from her mother, the former Florence Harris, an American whose family made millions from coffee and highway construction. “I’m not a fund raiser,” de Portago protests with a smile, “I’m a fun raiser.” In addition to her charity work, she is a respected set and costume designer, and she has signed to co-host (with Bud Palmer) a 90-minute TV newsmagazine for Metromedia. (“Barbara Walters is my ideal,” she sighs.)

Born in New York City, de Portago was an infant when her mother left her father, German businessman Henrik von Schlubach. Five years later Florence married van der Kemp and took up residence at Versailles. Barbara recalls that she “left for convent school a thin, flat-chested, bobby-socked person and arrived home a 160-pound blimp. My mother,” she laughs, “burst into tears when she saw me at the station.”

Now a svelte size eight, Barbara claims she wants “more than anything” to be a comedienne—”like Lucille Ball.” Pushing her in that direction is her live-in fiance, actor-turned-director Jason Grant, 32. “Barbara has style, humor, energy and insight,” he says. “I think she’s a natural.” She has her detractors, however. “I don’t think she’s very sincere,” says fashion doyenne Eleanor Lambert. Designer Arnold Scaasi demurs, but concedes that Grant is “rather like her Svengali.”

The couple met at a cocktail party in 1978. At the time Barbara didn’t know Grant (his stage name) was the scion of a wealthy Philadelphia family. Then one night she discovered a 10-carat diamond ring at the bottom of her champagne glass—a gift from Jason. He knows he has only one rival. “I adore John Paul II,” says Barbara, then adds with a wink of her mascaraed eye, “Jason knows if there’s anyone I would leave him for, it would be the Pope.”

You May Like