The Shocking True Story Behind Netflix's Hit Show Baby Reindeer

Richard Gadd is the creator and star of Baby Reindeer
Richard Gadd is the creator and star of Baby Reindeer Netflix

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Netflix’s Baby Reindeer.

Baby Reindeer is a stalker story that rejects all the usual TV tropes.

The new Netflix miniseries from creator Richard Gadd depicts struggling comedian Donny’s experience with a stalker called Martha (played by Jessica Gunning), and weaves in complex themes of trauma, mental health and sexual assault.

Within days of its debut, Baby Reindeer has already climbed to the top spot on Netflix UK’s most-watched list, and is dominating the conversation online thanks to its chilling-yet-complex depiction of themes that are so often overly-dramatised in popular culture.

However, what you might not know is that the drama is based on real experiences from Richard’s own life, which he previously unpacked in his one-man Edinburgh Fringe play of the same name.

Now adapted for the screen, viewers are wondering just how much of the show is true.  Read on for all the facts behind Baby Reindeer…

That first cup of tea

Donny and Martha's first meeting as depicted in Baby Reindeer
Donny and Martha's first meeting as depicted in Baby Reindeer Ed Miller/Netflix

In the first episode of the Baby Reindeer, Donny meets Martha at his pub job and kindly offers her a cup of tea on the house when she insists she can’t afford a drink.

This is actually how Richard Gadd’s real-life stalking ordeal started.

“At first everyone at the pub thought it was funny that I had an admirer,” he told The Times. “Then she started to invade my life, following me, turning up at my gigs, waiting outside my house, sending thousands of voicemails and emails.”

The relentless emails and texts

Richard Gadd pictured on the set of Baby Reindeer
Richard Gadd pictured on the set of Baby Reindeer Ed Miller/Netflix

Richard’s real life stalker really did send him more than 40,000 emails, 740 social media posts and 350 hours’ worth of voicemails over a five-year period.

Not only that, but every email you see in the show is a real message that he actually received.

The police’s response

Jamie Michie in Baby Reindeer
Jamie Michie in Baby Reindeer Netflix

The TV show depicts Donny receiving a rather dismissive response from police after finally making a report about Martha.

Donny’s struggle to be taken seriously by law enforcements was also true for Richard.

“I was getting told off for harassing the police about being harassed… I’ve been through two police investigations in my life and they’ve both been hilarious, fly-on-the-wall terrible,” he told The Guardian in 2019.

“Honestly my advice to someone who ever thought of pressing charges would be: it’s a fucking nightmare process, and it takes years.”

Things between Richard and his stalker began as a friendship

Richard Gadd as Donny in Baby Reindeer
Richard Gadd as Donny in Baby Reindeer Ed Miller/Netflix

Baby Reindeer shows Donny attempting to maintain pleasantries with Martha, before things turn more sinister.

Richard has claimed in the past that he made some decisions that didn’t always help matters when it came to his real-life stalker. The actor and comedian told Hello! that he “made mistakes” in his handling of the tricky situation.

Richard told Netflix said that it was “foolish” of him to give in to the “pure unadulterated adoration” that his stalker gave him when going through a personal crisis, admitting that it was “using someone”.

Jessica Gunning, who plays Martha, also spoke about how the “mistakes” depicted in the series, telling Netflix’s Tudum: “Sometimes Donny would play into her fantasy: He’d flirt back, and she’d be absolutely thrilled. He just doesn’t know how obsessed she will become.”

Donny’s sexual assault

Tom Goodman-Hill plays Darrien in Baby Reindeer
Tom Goodman-Hill plays Darrien in Baby Reindeer Ed Miller/Netflix

Baby Reindeer isn’t just a thoughtful portrayal of the mental health complications behind stalking ordeals. Episode four also introduces a distressing sexual assault in a flashback, where it’s revealed that an older TV writer called Darrien (Tom Goodman-Hill) plied Donny with drugs and rapes him.

This is also a true story from Richard’s life, which he attempted to unpack in his Edinburgh Comedy award-winning show Monkey See Monkey Do.

“The primal aspect of abuse is very strong,” he told Refinery29 in 2017. “Outside, you feel like an empty shell but inside, you feel like a raging fire.

He also opened up about the long-lasting mental toll.

“Assault lasts for years – but people seem to think it’s an incident,” he explained. “People think ‘rape’ is the moment of penetration. But it lasts forever.”

“It was a hell of a thing to write and shoot,” he told Netflix of the sequence.

Martha’s personality

Jessica Gunning has received critical acclaim for her performance as the stalker, Martha, in Baby Reindeer
Jessica Gunning has received critical acclaim for her performance as the stalker, Martha, in Baby Reindeer Ed Miller/Netflix

The show has unexpectedly led many viewers to question how much of Richard’s real stalker is depicted in Martha’s character.

However, this is one aspect of the show where the comedian and writer has alluded to granting himself some creative licence.

Richard told GQ that they have “gone to such great lengths to disguise her to the point that I don’t think she would recognise herself”. He added: “What’s been borrowed is an emotional truth, not a fact-by-fact profile of someone.”

But Richard also told the publication that the whole show is “pretty truthful”, explaining: “Any time it veered too much into embellishment I would always want to pull it back. It’s extremely emotionally truthful.

“Of course, this is a medium where structure is so important, you need to change things to protect people… but I like to think, artistically, that it never moved too far from the truth.”

The fate of Martha

Martha’s story in Baby Reindeer ends with her getting arrested and going to court for a threatening voicemail. She’s charged with stalking and harassment, and pleads guilty before receiving nine months in prison and a five-year restraining order.

However, Richard has never disclosed what actually happened to his stalker – but he has confirmed that he did get a restraining order against her.

Richard also recently told The Times: “It is resolved. I had mixed feelings about it – I didn’t want to throw someone who was that level of mentally unwell in prison.”

Baby Reindeer is available to watch on Netflix now.

Help and support:

  • Rape Crisis services for women and girls who have been raped or have experienced sexual violence - 0808 802 9999

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