The True Story Behind the Surprise Netflix Hit 'Baby Reindeer' (2024)

Warning: This post contains spoilers for the Netflix series Baby Reindeer.

In his one-man play-turned-hit Netflix series Baby Reindeer, Scottish comedian Richard Gadd recounts the harrowing true story of how his experience with being stalked forced him to confront a buried trauma.

Playing a fictionalized version of himself named Donny Dunn, Gadd unpacks the years-long stalking and harassment campaign he endured at the hands of a middle-aged woman he refers to by the pseudonym Martha (played with a chilling intensity by Jessica Gunning) while struggling to make it as a stand-up and writer in London. As is depicted in the show, the stalking began in the wake of Gadd being groomed, repeatedly sexually assaulted, and raped by an older male TV industry mentor (named Darrien in the show and played by Tom Goodman-Hill)—an ordeal that left him reeling emotionally, questioning his sexuality, and wrestling with extreme self-loathing. Still, Gadd doesn't shy away from his own complicity in what transpired with Martha, frequently painting himself in a negative light as the story unfolds over the course of seven episodes.

“It would be unfair to say she was an awful person and I was a victim. That didn’t feel true,” he told The Guardian in 2019 following the sold-out inaugural run of the Baby Reindeer play. "I did loads of things wrong and made the situation worse. I wasn’t a perfect person [back then], so there’s no point saying I was."

When Gadd debuted his one-man show at the 2019 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, it had been two years since he had seen or heard from Martha. Three years earlier, while the stalking was still in full swing, he had won the festival's top prize for his comedy show Monkey See, Monkey Do, which explored his experience as a survivor of sexual violence. The Baby Reindeer Netflix series, which is currently at number two on the streamer's most-watched charts following its release last week, is an amalgam of the two stage shows.

"It felt like a risky thing—to do a 'warts and all' version of the story where I held my hands up to the mistakes I had made with Martha," Gadd wrote in a piece that accompanied the show's debut. "The foolish flirting. The cowardly excuses as to why we could not be together. Not to mention the themes of internalized prejudice and sexual shame that underpinned it all. The graphic details of the drugging and grooming and sexual violence I had experienced only a few years before...But equally I could not shy away from the truth of what had happened to me. This was a messy, complicated situation. But one that needed to be told, regardless."

Here's what to know about the true story behind Baby Reindeer.

What happened with Martha?

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Similar to how the show begins, Gadd has said that the stalking started after he gave Martha a free cup of tea when she came into the London pub where he was working in 2015. “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."

Over the next four and a half years, Gadd recounts that Martha sent him 41,071 emails, 350 hours' worth of voicemails, 744 tweets, 46 Facebook messages, 106 pages of letters, and a variety of strange gifts. Every email that appears in the Netflix series is a message that Gaad received in real life. She also harassed a number of people who were close to Gaad, including his parents and a trans woman (named Teri in the show and played by Nava Mau) whom he had begun dating shortly before the stalking began.

When Gadd tried to go to the police, he discovered that the laws surrounding harassment and abuse are, in his own words, "so stupid." Despite the fact that the show presents Martha as having been previously convicted on similar charges, Gadd was told he needed concrete evidence of direct threats for authorities to take any action.

"They look for black and white, good and evil, and that’s not how it works," he told The Independent. "You can really affect someone’s life within the parameters of legality, and that is sort of mad."

How do things stand today?

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In the show, Martha ultimately receives a nine-month prison sentence and five-year restraining order for stalking Donny. In real life, Gaad has never disclosed the details of how the situation was resolved beyond the fact that he had "mixed feelings" about it.

"I can’t emphasize enough how much of a victim she is in all this," he told The Independent. "Stalking and harassment is a form of mental illness. It would have been wrong to paint her as a monster, because she’s unwell, and the system’s failed her."

As for how Gaad's sexual assault has continued to impact his life, the finale culminates in a closing sequence in which Donny shows up at Darrien's home to confront him only to accept an offer to work on his new show instead. A distressed Donny then finds himself at a bar where he is offered a drink on the house in a moment that flips his first interaction with Martha on its head.

"I think that was almost the most truthful scene of the entire show. What abuse does is it creates psychological damage as well as physical damage," Gadd told GQ. "There’s a pattern where a lot of people who have been abused feel like they need their abusers. I don’t think it was a cynical ending, it was showing an element of abuse that hadn’t been seen on television before, which is, unfortunately, the deeply entrenched, negative, psychological effects of attachment you can sometimes have with your abuser."

The True Story Behind the Surprise Netflix Hit 'Baby Reindeer' (2024)
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