The true story behind Netflix series Baby Reindeer

Richard Gadd reveals the extraordinary and terrifying true story that inspired the Netflix series

The true story behind Netflix series Baby Reindeer (Netflix)
The true story behind Netflix series Baby Reindeer. (Netflix)

Baby Reindeer is taking Netflix by storm and it has an enviable 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. Everyone wants to know: what is the real-life story behind the terrifying tale and how much of the show is true?

It all starts from a stranger's act of kindness. In the Netflix series, aspiring comedian Donny (Richard Gadd, who plays the screen version of himself) offers lonely Martha (Jessica Gunning) a drink on the house when she says she can't afford one in the pub. It takes a sinister and unimaginable turn when Martha begins her reign of terror stalking Donny. The stalking takes over his life.

The opening scene and that simple act of kindness is true. "It did all start with a drink on the house and I knew almost immediately," Gadd said. "I almost knew the second I'd done that, the second I'd made that gesture, 'Oh something is brewing here'."

Unrecognisable real-life stalker

Baby Reindeer starts with an act of kindness. (Netflix)
Baby Reindeer starts with an act of kindness. (Netflix)

Gadd was stalked in his 20s by a woman who called him "baby reindeer", a nickname that would later become the title of the series that has gripped the UK. Stalking isn't as "sexed-up" in real life as it is on TV, Gadd explained. The writer wanted to capture how stalking is a mental illness. The real-life stalking ordeal amounted to: 41,071 emails, 350 hours on voicemail, 744 tweets, 46 Facebook messages and 106 pages in letters. It escalated over a four-year period in Gadd's life.

Initially, the stalking didn't appear to be threatening. Gadd told The Times: "At first everyone at the pub thought it was funny that I had an admirer... Then she started to invade my life, following me, turning up at my gigs, waiting outside my house, sending thousands of voicemails and emails."

Gadd said writing Baby Reindeer saved his life. This week, he told The Morning hosts: "When you are struggling with things and everything is on your shoulders or just tight in your chest, just getting it out there, writing it down, putting it into something. It’s been the best therapy for me, it’s kind of been a lifesaver."

Gadd said writing Baby Reindeer saved his life (Netflix)
Gadd said writing Baby Reindeer saved his life. (Netflix)

All the details aren't 100% the same as what happened in real life. Gadd explained to The Guardian: "It’s very emotionally true, obviously: I was severely stalked and severely abused. But we wanted it to exist in the sphere of art, as well as protect the people it’s based on.”

The real-life Martha is unrecognisable from the show. Gadd told GQ: "We’ve gone to such great lengths to disguise her to the point that I don’t think she would recognise herself." The show ends with Martha being imprisoned for nine months for stalking and she is given a five-year restraining order, banning her from contacting Donny. However, Gadd hinted in real life it doesn't pan out quite like that. He told The Times that he "didn’t want to throw someone who was that level of mentally unwell in prison".

Sexual assault

The show also tackles another type of harrowing abuse. Chilling Baby Reindeer scenes see Donny realise the writer he looks up to, Darrien O’Connor (Tom Goodman-Hill), has been abusing him while they do drugs together. The grooming plays on the minds of viewers at home, especially the gut-punching scenes where Donny stays at Darrien's London flat days after being attacked by his idol.

In the behind-the-scenes Netflix series, he said: "It was a hell of a thing to write and shoot. It shows a side of abuse that I don’t think we’ve seen before. I still think there’s an idea that sexual abuse is a pill in a drink and dissolves and someone wakes up and doesn’t know where they are and that does happen, and it’s a big problem, but a lot of abuse occurs in very intimate relationships. I wanted to show how complicated and psychologically messed up situations could get to."

Baby Reindeer's most truthful scene

Baby Reindeer (Netflix)
Baby Reindeer (Netflix)

At the end, Donny returned to Darrien's flat where viewers expect a confrontation. However, what happens is totally different. Instead, the aspiring comedian ends up accepting a job from him to work on TV show Cotton Mouth (which isn't a real TV show) and when he's alone again he breaks down in tears. Gadd wanted to capture the "complicated situations" of abuse.

Gadd revealed this is the most truthful scene in the series. He told GQ: "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…

"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."

With the help of We Are Survivors charity, Gadd has been able to heal in real life. He told The Independent: "When you go through something like sexual abuse, a lot of the disempowerment can come from these old ideas of what it means to be a man. Certainly when I shook off that idea, and realised that speaking out and saying ‘I’m struggling’ is a form of strength, sloughing off the idea that masculinity was the only form of survival – that was very healing."

Read more