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Baby Reindeer
Photograph: Ed Miller/NetflixRichard Gadd and Jessica Gunning in ‘Baby Reindeer’

‘Baby Reindeer’: the true story behind Netflix’s chilling new drama

Richard Gadd’s recreation of his stalking ordeal is astonishing telly

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Phil de Semlyen

‘This is a true story.’

So begins Netflix’s latest sensation ‘Baby Reindeer’, a true-crime series unlike any other. Richard Gadd’s dramatisation of his own experiences at the hands of a stalker isn’t your average ‘Fatal Attraction’-alike thriller where the man is a poor innocent and the woman is a crazed harpy looking to put some bunnies on simmer.

Adapted his own acclaimed one-man show, which debuted at the Edinburgh Festival in 2019 and moved to London’s Bush Theatre a year later, Gadd struggles with a more complicated version of the truth in his depiction of a struggling stand-up comedian drowning under the relentless attentions of a troubled woman. Alongside its painfully candid treatment of sexual abuse, that sets this seven-episode series apart. Here’s what you need to know about it. 

Baby Reindeer
Photograph: Ed Miller/NetflixRichard Gadd as stand-up comedian Donny in ‘Baby Reindeer’

What is the true story behind Baby Reindeer? 

Writer-star Gadd plays Donny, a version of his own younger self whose ambitions of stand-up stardom in London quickly give way to disappointing gigs, small crowds and a make-do job pulling pints. It’s in the pub that he encounters Martha, an eccentric but enthusiast fantasist who claims to have Tony Blair on speed dial but doesn’t have the money for a Diet Coke. Donny’s pity leads to an awkward, accidental flirtation of sorts, which eventually leads to a barrage of emails, voicemails, texts and Facebook messages. ‘Martha’s voicemails became the podcast of my life,’ notes the first desperate, then resigned Donny.

The stalker’s real name has been changed for the show. Gadd has spoken about protecting ‘Martha’s anonymity, and spends much of the drama investigating his own culpability in what followed. ‘It would be unfair to say she was an awful person and I was a victim,’ Gadd told The Guardian in 2019. ‘That didn’t feel true.’

The extent of Martha’s real-life obsession is laid bare by mind-blowing statistics, all totted and tallied by Gadd: 41,071 emails, 350 hours of voicemails, 744 tweets, 46 Facebook messages, and more than a 100 pages of letters. There were gifts too: a woolly hat, brand new boxer shorts, a reindeer toy – for reasons that become clear later in the show, ‘Baby Reindeer’ is one of Martha’s pet names for Donny – as well as sleeping pills. The stalking went on for six years, with the police mostly unhelpful in protecting him.

‘The feeling you get most of all when you’re getting harassed is relentless tediousness and frustration.‘I didn’t want the audience to feel that.’ says Gadd about adding a layer of fiction to the stage version of ‘Baby Reindeer’ that extends to its small-screen adaptation. 

Baby Reindeer
Photograph: Ed Miller/Netflix

Who is the real-life Martha? 

The real woman’s identity is not known – Gadd has never disclosed her identity – and ‘Baby Reindeer’ offers an at least partly fictionalised version of her. 

‘We’ve gone to such great lengths to disguise her to the point that I don’t think she would recognise herself,’ he tells GQ. ‘What’s been borrowed is an emotional truth, not a fact-by-fact profile of someone.’

For Gadd, the show scratches at wounds that are still healing. ‘I would be lying if I said I was not back exactly where I was in 2019,’ he says. ‘Fearing the worst. Praying for the best. Hoping that in amongst all the messy, complicated, fucked up themes Baby Reindeer tackles that people might see its beating heart.’

Who’s in the cast? 

Series creator Richard Gadd plays Donny, opposite ‘The Outlaws’ Jessica Gunning as Martha. 

Shalom Brune-Franklin (‘The Tourist’) plays Donny’s ex-girlfriend Keeley, while ‘WIA’s Nina Sosanya is Liz, Keeley’s mum who lets Donny stay on as her tenant after his break-up with her daughter. Nava Mau is American therapist Teri, a trans woman Donny meets on a dating app and who begins to fall foul of Martha’s harassment.

‘Inside No. 9’s Tom Goodman-Hill is Darrien, an older TV writer who plays a key role in Donny’s story that comes to light later in the series. 

How many episodes are there?

‘Baby Reindeer’ is seven 30-minutes episodes.

Richard Gadd: ‘This show is more important than my duty of care to myself.’

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