‘Baby Reindeer’: The True Story Behind the Disturbing Netflix Series

After the show became a hit, the woman who claims to be the “real Martha” called it “very, very defamatory

Richard Gadd and Jessica Gunning in "Baby Reindeer"
Richard Gadd and Jessica Gunning in "Baby Reindeer" (Netflix)

Scottish comedian Richard Gadd’s Netflix series “Baby Reindeer” is a fictionalized account of his real-life experience being stalked by an obsessed fan. Now the internet is just as obsessed with uncovering the true story that inspired the show, including the woman who came forward in May to say she was the real Martha, and to hotly dispute Gadd’s versions of events.

The limited series chronicles Gadd’s character (who is now named Donny Dunn) and how his interactions with his stalker Martha (played by Jessica Gunning) grow more tense. As the series unfolds, layers from his past — including his experience being sexually assaulted by a comedy writer he considered his mentor — provide context for his own unpredictable behavior toward his tormenter.

The show has been a surprise hit for Netflix, becoming the most-watched English TV title in its second week of release with 13.3 million views, up an impressive 411.5% from its initial viewership of 2.2 million in its first four days. The project is only gaining notoriety as word spreads of its intricate storytelling and true crime-tinged premise.

Tom Goodman-Hill as Derrien in "Baby Reindeer"
Tom Goodman-Hill as Darrien in “Baby Reindeer” (Netflix)

Gadd first dramatized the bizarre events in a solo play that was also called “Baby Reindeer,” the nickname his stalker gave him. “The show has been only lightly fictionalized,” Gadd told The Guardian in 2019 when he staged his play in Edinburgh. “The skeleton of the story is absolutely true.”

After articles speculated that actor, writer and director Sean Foley is the inspiration for the character of Darrien in the series, an older male writer who sexually assaulted Gadd in real life, Gadd asked followers on Instagram to give up the search.

“People I love, have worked with, and admire (including Sean Foley) are unfairly getting caught up in speculation,” Gadd wrote on his Instagram story on April 22. “Please don’t speculate on who any of the real-life people could be. That’s not the point of our show.”

Metro UK reported that Foley has been subjected to “defamatory, abusive and threatening” online posts after he was wrongly accused of being Darrien, and that police are now investigating.

The character is played by Tom Goodman-Hill, who does resemble the red-haired Foley somewhat, which has only further fueled online speculation.

Is there a real Martha?

Gadd has never shared the name of the real Martha and has stated that the real person doesn’t look like the actress who portrays her (Jessica Gunning). “We’ve gone to such great lengths to disguise her to the point that I don’t think she would recognize herself,” he told GQ.

However, on May 9, Scottish lawyer Fiona Harvey told Piers Morgan she was the “real Martha,” and stated that the most disturbing things the character does in the series, including viciously attacking Gadd’s lover, never happened in real life. Harvey called the series “very, very defamatory to me, very career-damaging.”

In the Netflix series, Martha is eventually charged with three counts of stalking and harassment. She pleads guilty and receives nine months in prison and a five-year restraining order from contacting Donny. By contrast, Harvey said that she “had never been charged with an offense, let alone going to prison. “

When the series was first released, Gadd said that the situation with his real stalker had been “resolved.” He told the Times of London, “I had mixed feelings about it — I didn’t want to throw someone who was that level of mentally unwell in prison.”

In 2019, Gadd said that he had not heard from his stalker despite the publicity around the award-winning play. “I have to admit that it hasn’t [caused her to start stalking again],” he told The Guardian. “Maybe seeing this in the press has made her think twice about her behavior.”

In May, the tremendous wave of press around the Netflix series had the opposite effect, with Harvey coming forward to dispute how she was portrayed. On June 6, she filed a $170 million lawsuit against Netflix, but did not name Gadd in the suit.

Are the texts and emails in the show real?

Gadd told Netflix he received 41,071 emails, 744 tweets, 46 Facebook messages, and 106 pages of letters from his stalker, who also left 350 hours of voicemail messages after getting his phone number.

We see Dunn getting besieged with messages in the series, but it’s not clear if producers used the real texts and emails Gadd received in real life, though many viewers are assuming they are real.

Netflix did not respond to TheWrap’s request for clarification, but several memorable lines of dialogue from the show, such as “hang my curtains,” seem to be based on tweets from Harvey that are still online.

All episodes of “Baby Reindeer” are now streaming on Netflix.

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