Is ‘Baby Reindeer’ Based On A True Story?

The disturbing new Netflix series everyone is talking about is based on true events—that happened to its star and creator.
Richard Gadd writes and stars in 'Baby Reindeer' (2024).
Richard Gadd writes and stars in 'Baby Reindeer' (2024). / Ed Miller/Netflix

The most popular show on Netflix is sparking a digital manhunt that makes its story about a deranged stalker all the more disturbing. 

Baby Reindeer—a seven-episode tragicomedy from writer/star Richard Gadd—has captivated fans with its twist-filled, cringe-and-bear-it premise. It tells the story of Donny Dunn (Gadd), an aspiring comedian toiling away behind the bar of a London pub who makes the mistake of befriending a mentally unwell woman named Martha (Jessica Gunning). What follows is an unnervingly intimate commentary on trauma and the insidious ways it can trap us in a web of repetitive self-destruction. 

But what makes this shocking, darkly comedic tale even more fascinating is that it’s based on a true story—Gadd’s own, in fact. 

The Scottish comedian pulled inspiration from a years-long saga he suffered through with his own stalker, a woman who reportedly harassed him for four years, eventually leading him to seek help from law enforcement. Gadd previously used the experience to power a one-man show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2019 before expanding the story and taking it to Netflix.

Plenty of alarming details in the series—including the many emails Martha sends Donny, her abuse of his trans girlfriend, and her obsession with his family and friends—mirrored his stalker’s actions in real life. But, according to Gadd, what he went through was even more harrowing than what’s shown on TV. 

Gadd’s stalker allegedly sent him 41,000 emails (in the series, we only see a fraction of her grammatically contorted missives), mailed him 106 letters, and left him more than 350 hours of voicemails. Her dangerous fixation was allowed to go on for so long because Gadd, like his character on the show, waited to report her. That decision was tied to another traumatic experience for the comedian, one we see play out in the series as Donny is drugged and sexually abused by a much older comic and writer serving as his mentor. While the two incidents are very different, Gadd draws connections between them and the havoc they wrought on his life. 

Despite Martha making a run for that “Best Villain On TV” title, Gadd and Gunning have begged fans to stop searching the internet for clues as to the character’s real-life alter-ego.

“I would urge people not to be doing that,” Gunning told Glamour. “I think if that is happening, I think it’s a real, real shame because it shows that they haven’t watched the show properly. That’s not the point of it in any way. Netflix and Richard went to extreme lengths to try and make sure that the identities were kept private for a reason.”

Gadd himself took to Instagram to also plead with cyber sleuths hoping to uncover the identity of the comedian who groomed and abused him years ago, writing, “Please don’t speculate on who any of the real-life people could be. That’s not the point of our show.”

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