The Chilling True Story Behind Netflix’s Baby Reindeer – And The Complicated Aftermath

By Olivia Emily

1 month ago

Dark comedy takes on a whole new meaning

There’s a true crime TV series on everyone’s lips – and it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Written by and starring Scottish comedian Richard Gadd, Baby Reindeer is a dark comedy following struggling stand up comic Donny Dunn with a grave secret: he has a stalker. Worst of all, it’s based on a true story. Here’s everything you need to know before you tune in – plus what’s been going on after it was released.

The Truth Behind Netflix’s Baby Reindeer

A man in a phone box

© Ed Miller/Netflix

What Is Baby Reindeer About?

Based on Richard Gadd’s award-winning Edinburgh Fringe one-man play, Baby Reindeer follows struggling comedian Donny Dunn (Richard Gadd) and his warped relationship with his stalker, Martha (Jessica Gunning). As Martha’s impact on Donny worsens, he is forced to face his deeply buried trauma. Sounds intense, but it’s not all serious: Baby Reindeer is best described as a dark comedy.

A still from Baby Reindeer

© Ed Miller/Netflix

Is It Based On A True Story?

Yes, Baby Reindeer is based on Richard Gadd’s true experience of being stalked for a number of years. Scotsman Gadd worked in a pub during his twenties, and a woman entered one day telling him she was a lawyer but she couldn’t afford a drink. Gadd kindly gave her a cup of tea free of charge, sparking an obsession in the woman who proceeded to frequently visit the pub. She was so invested in Gadd that she became convinced the two were in a romantic relationship – though they were not.

Over a number of years, Gadd received over 40,000 emails, 740 tweets, 350 hours of voicemail, 100 pages worth of letters, and 45 Facebook messages from this woman (let’s call her ‘Martha’, as she is named in the show; Gadd has never named the real woman) – but getting the police to do anything about it became a ‘bureaucratic nightmare’. Martha wasn’t just stalking Gadd online: she waited outside his home all day, attended his comedy gigs and heckled him, and even directed abuse at his parents, including spreading a rumour that Gadd’s father was a paedophile.

She would call him ‘Baby Reindeer’ – hence the name of the play. Gadd has explained how he would log everything Martha sent to him, ‘annotating every single voicemail she ever left me in the hope of bringing it all to an end. Praying that she would say something incriminating so that the situation could be dealt with properly and effectively.’ As he told The Evening Standard, he was feeling ‘extraordinarily let down by’ the police who would not help him – and could not, because the law is not set up to make stalking itself a crime.

A man lying in bed

© Ed Miller/Netflix

But these notes and the unrest Gadd was facing soon filtered through his best-known coping mechanism: comedy. Gadd recently told Netflix on creating Baby Reindeer: ‘Sometimes in the pit of despair, inspiration emerges. I was now in the fourth year of being stalked, by a woman, whose only skill greater than her ability to harass was her ability to evade the law. She had somehow just obtained my mobile number and I was in the peak of my career at that point, having just come back from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival where I had won the Edinburgh Comedy Award for Monkey See Monkey Do. A show which tackled the sexual abuse I suffered when I first got into the industry.’

That’s right: Baby Reindeer isn’t the first time Gadd has adapted his real-life experiences into comic performances. One of the series’ most haunting episodes is number four, which moves away from the Martha plot and backwards in time to share Donny’s traumatic back story, hoping to explain why he might not have reported Martha’s harassment until he was six months in. In episode four, we see how Donny was groomed, plied with mind-altering drugs, and both sexually assaulted and raped by an older man in the TV industry named Darrien, who created the fictional series, Cotton Mouth. Donny befriends Darrien with the hopes of being connected with his industry contacts, while Darrien gives Donny notes on his writing, compliments his talents, and promises he will help him to get a TV show of his own commissioned.

Tom Goodman-Hill as Darrien in Baby Reindeer

Tom Goodman-Hill as Darrien in Baby Reindeer. Courtesy of Netflix © 2024

Sadly, this is based on another true story in Gadd’s life, which he explored in his previous comedy show, Monkey See Monkey Do, which won the Edinburgh Comedy award in 2016. In that show, Gadd described how he met a man at a party who drugged and sexually attacked him. In the fictionalised Baby Reindeer, Donny repeatedly returns to Darrien’s flat, hoping to write together and get more notes on his work, but ends up drinking and taking drugs, instead. Darrien loads Donny with harder and harder drugs over time, including acid and GHB, promising to look after him while he is high. Donny frequently passes out and blacks out, which is when Darrien assaults and eventually rapes him.

While Gadd explored his experiences in Monkey See Monkey Do, in Baby Reindeer, Donny has never told anyone about being abused, let alone turned his experience into a performance. Instead, he keeps the information closely guarded, and it is only when the situation with Martha becomes too much that the truth begins to spill out of him.

‘I remember during a particularly long night of unrest; the idea came to me,’ Gadd says on Martha’s stalking. ‘To stage this whole ordeal, one day, when the time was right. What an opening, it might be, to layer the voicemails on top of one another and shoot them around a stage in a wash of projected light. A cacophony of oscillating words and sounds bending and mutating along with her different emotional states. Mirroring her madness. Mirroring my madness. I mean… what better way to start a show than to plunge the audience straight inside the horror of it all?’

After a successful run with Monkey See Monkey Do, Gadd created Baby Reindeer and took the show to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2019 – and it was a sell-out. ‘By the end, I was performing two shows a day just to cope with demand,’ Gadd says. Baby Reindeer was a one-man show, with ‘Martha’ existing only as an empty barstool and Gadd using light and sound effects to flesh it out. It bagged an Olivier award, among several other prestigious prizes.

A still from Baby Reindeer

© Ed Miller/Netflix

Netflix then commissioned a TV version of the show in April 2021 and, three years later, it’s finally available to stream. The TV version is slightly different, expanded from its one-man-show origins into a multi-character, seven-episode series. While Donny, the main character in the TV series, is played by Gadd, he is not an entirely autobiographical character. Donny is a struggling comedian and actor searching for a break, while Gadd was already finding success as a comedian when the stalking began. Martha is rendered real with a haunting portrayal by Jessica Gunning.

The real Martha has been legally prevented from ever approaching Gadd or anybody who knows him. As for Gadd, he was keen to portray a different side of stalking than we’re used to on TV. ‘Stalking on television tends to be very sexed-up. It has a mystique. It’s somebody in a dark alley way. It’s somebody who’s really sexy, who’s very normal, but then they go strange bit by bit,’ Gadd recently told Netflix. ‘But stalking is a mental illness. I really wanted to show the layers of stalking with a human quality I hadn’t seen on television before. It’s a stalker story turned on its head. It takes a trope and turns it on its head.’

Nava Mau as Teri in Baby Reindeer.

Nava Mau as Teri. © Ed Miller/Netflix

The Aftermath

According to Deadline, Baby Reindeer is likely to reach 60 million views in its first month (it first launched on 11 April 2024), and on 7 May, Netflix revealed the series had spent a third consecutive week atop the English TV chart on the platform, with 18.6 million views in the week commencing 29 April alone. But the wild success of the series doesn’t overlay the haunting truth behind the story.

After watching the seven-part series, some sleuthy fans took it upon themselves to start digging into the truth underpinning it all, grappling to figure out who the real ‘Martha’ is and who Darrien is based on. They unearthed old videos of Gadd performing in which he is heckled by Martha-like characters, and uncovered information pointing fingers at theatre director Sean Foley – at which point Gadd pulled the plug. ‘People I love, have worked with, and admire (including Sean Foley) are unfairly getting caught up in speculation,’ he wrote in an Instagram Story on 22 April. ‘Please don’t speculate on who any of the real life people could be. That’s not the point of our show.’

Foley, who received a slew of abusive and threatening social media posts, has reported the matter to the police – but some of the show’s fans are insistent that his resemblance to actor Tom Goodman-Hill (who plays Darrien) is a covert decision by Gadd and casting directors to lead fans to the real perpetrator. Obviously, this is not true.

But the speculation continues. In a recent episode of The Rest is Entertainment dedicated to ‘The Baby Reindeer Controversy’, author and TV personality Richard Osman commented: ‘everyone knows who [Gadd] is talking about’. ‘[Gadd] has been very open to people in the industry about who that person was,’ Osman says. ‘It comes out now and a completely different person is identified [Sean Foley], someone who has produced Richard Gadd before, but is definitively not the person in any way.

‘But the person they’ve cast in that role [Goodman-Hill] looks like this other guy, looks like the guy who’s been falsely accused [Foley],’ Osman continues. ‘And it’s such a weird, bizarre thing to do because this poor guy has had death threats and he’s had to issue a statement to say it’s not me. And it is not him, definitely not, because people in the industry know who it is. And it’s definitely not him.’

Meanwhile, Gadd himself has been the subject of some questioning after actor Reece Lyons shared her experience with the casting process on the show. Taking to X, Reece shared a lengthy thread detailing her first meeting with Gadd after one of her shows, where he offered to buy her a drink. She does not name Gadd, but it is clear who she is writing about with contextual clues. Reece writes that, at their first meeting, Gadd told her about Baby Reindeer and the role of Teri. When Reece, a trans woman like Teri, showed her interest in auditioning, Gadd admitted that he found Reece attractive. According to Reece, the two then dated while she auditioned for the role, a conflict of interest she was well aware of. After some on-and-off-again dating, Gadd allegedly told Reece: ‘Your audition was exceptional. But it’s out of my hands. Netflix is looking for somebody who’s already a star,’ referring to Nava Mau.

After Reece’s post went viral, Clerkenwell Films, the production company behind the series, reportedly opened an investigation into Gadd’s conduct, eventually finding that he did not act unprofessionally. Reece, meanwhile, has posted a follow-up on social media: ‘Since coming forward publicly, I have received private messages from multiple women and other sexual minorities, sharing their experiences with this individual. I won’t share details to respect their privacy, but I encourage others to come forward, if they feel safe to do so.’

Why It Called Baby Reindeer?

The show is called Baby Reindeer after the nickname Martha gives Donny. We don’t know why she calls him this until the final episode when it is revealed – when Donny listens back to one of her many, many voicemails – that Donny reminds Martha of a cute stuffed reindeer toy she had as a child.

The Trailer

The Cast

  • Richard Gadd as Donny Dunn, a struggling comedian and actor
  • Jessica Gunning as Martha, Donny’s stalker
  • Nava Mau as Teri, an American therapist who meets Donny through a dating app
  • Tom Goodman-Hill as Darrien, a successful TV writer and potential mentor to Donny
Two people on the tube in Baby Reindeer

© Ed Miller/Netflix

Where Was It Filmed?

Baby Reindeer was filmed in Edinburgh and London in summer 2022.

Where Is Baby Reindeer Streaming?

All seven episodes of Baby Reindeer are streaming now on Netflix.