This article contains discussion of stalking and sexual assault that some may find upsetting.

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Richard Gadd’s stalker drama Baby Reindeer has taken the world by storm.

The hit Netflix series follows Donny (Gadd), a struggling comedian whose life comes crashing down when he's relentlessly stalked by a woman called Martha (Jessica Gunning) after a seemingly innocuous act of kindness.

However, what begins as a tale of stalking soon becomes so much more, with Baby Reindeer going on to explore dark topics such as trauma, identity and sexual abuse.

In its opening episode, the show claims “This is a true story”, and naturally viewers have been left wondering just how much of the series is based on fact and how much is fiction.

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Well, from Teri's fate, to that clever ending to what happens to Martha, read on for everything you need to know about the true story behind the show, which is based on Gadd's hit Edinburgh Fringe one-man theatre show of the same name.

Is Baby Reindeer a true story? Richard Gadd's stalking ordeal explained

Yes, Baby Reindeer is based on Gadd's real-life experiences with his own stalker.

Gadd first met his stalker, who he has called "Martha", while he was working at a pub. He offered her a cup of tea on the house, a small act of kindness that was, unbeknownst to him, the gateway to her obsession with him.

Over the course of three years, she sent him more than 41,000 emails, voicemails totalling 350 hours, multiple social media messages and 106 pages of letters.

She not only came to his shows, she also turned up at his house – none of which was punishable by law because her behaviour was not considered physically threatening.

"There were times when it was so life-debilitating that I couldn't believe it was allowed to get to that point from a legal perspective,” he told Time Out back in 2019.

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Eventually, two-and-a-half years down the line, Gadd did manage to get a restraining order taken out against her. But in a conversation with The Guardian that same year, he revealed that his stalker, who was still out there, had also subjected his family and friends to harassment.

And yet, Gadd's "motivation" for writing Baby Reindeer wasn't to highlight the fact that "men get stalked too", although it will undoubtedly prompt discourse around that.

For him, it goes far deeper.

Richard Gadd as Donny Dunn in Baby Reindeer, sat wearing a suit and looking at the camera
Richard Gadd as Donny Dunn in Baby Reindeer. Ed Miller/Netflix

"What motivated me to write it is when I was going through it, I was like, 'This is bonkers. How long is it going to go on for? How hard it is to get it all sorted? Why isn't there help for her?'," he told RadioTimes.com.

One of the most interesting aspects of Gadd's story (and possibly bewildering, for some) is the sympathy he has for his stalker.

"When I was getting stalked... I saw someone who was unwell, needed help, was quite vulnerable," he said. "Stalking is a mental illness and it comes from a sort of fantasy addiction of some kind, this idea that this person is the answer to all your problems, so you'll hear only what you want to hear, disregard the rest."

And that didn't chime with what he'd previously seen depicted on screen.

"I hadn't seen that on television before and I actually think that when I was going through it, I just felt like it was an important story to tell... [and] that was important for people to understand," he added.

"Martha does bad things in the show, but I hope to think at times it all comes from that woundedness, that place in her, I think.

In the fourth episode, Gadd also confronts another painful chapter in his life that preceded being stalked: his sexual assault, which he turned into stage show Monkey See Monkey Do.

But despite the two ordeals being separate, Gadd believes his sexual assault "really serviced the Martha plot".

"It's very important to show how much that had impacted me and how much it had impacted the Martha relationship," he explained.

"The thing is, when Martha enters in episode 1, what I think the audience feel is, 'Why is he indulging her?' You're cringing and you wonder why he's doing it. But I think once you take the audience through episode 4 and you flashback and go through all those things, by the time Martha enters at the end of episode 4, you're like, 'Oh thank God, she's back.' You understand really why Donny did it."

As with the subject of stalking, Gadd also believed he had something new, or certainly more truthful to say about sexual assault.

"On a fundamental level, you see sexual abuse in television – not all the time – but a lot of the time as an anonymous figure in the night," he said. "But a lot of abuse happens in power dynamics, work dynamics, relationship dynamics, all those kinds of things. I hadn't really seen the psychological complexity of it too often on television and I really wanted to show the perniciousness of the grooming cycle, just as much as the abuse cycle.

"Abuse survivors can feel just as much shame about the idea of feeling duped or the idea of feeling manipulated. One of the feelings that was left with me after everything was, 'God, I just feel so stupid’. I think being so honest, not just about the assault but how it got to that point, I hope will provide comfort for people who are maybe going through the same thing."

But of course sharing his story on stage at the Fringe is a different kettle of fish to broadcasting it on Netflix, where it's now available to an audience of tens of millions.

"The idea that a lot of people are going to know my business is quite intimidating, and I did this show to about 200 people a night when it was a theatre show," he said.

But it's not just about people "knowing his business". It's also about how sharing his experiences will shape people's perception of him.

"It's funny because you spend your whole life kind of running trying to escape the mire of what it's like to go through some of these things – the psychological impact it has," said Gadd. "Then of course, you put it out into the world and you also don't want to be defined by it.

"Inevitably, you probably will be, in some ways, twinged with these experiences for some time."

But as Nava Mau, who plays Terri (also based on a real person), notes, Gadd's candidness is an act of bravery that only deserves our praise.

"I feel lucky that as much as he can see other people, he can also see himself, and he's not afraid to show the world."

How accurate is Baby Reindeer?

Richard Gadd sitting at the back of a bus in a yellow rain jacket, with antlers on the window behind
Baby Reindeer. Netflix

Naturally, certain details have been changed to serve a "satisfying television production", such as the "shifting around" of timelines, "just to make a little bit more sense". But "it is a true story", said Gadd.

Specific details concerning the real-life figures involved have also been altered to protect them.

"It borrows completely from an emotional truth and a lot of the instances that happen in Baby Reindeer are very truthful," he continued. "I never really compromised on that, the energy of the characters.

"But obviously, we've had to protect other people to protect ourselves, we've had to change all the specific details of the characters because... it leaves everyone open to too much vulnerability on both sides."

Speaking to RadioTimes.com, Jessica Gunning, who plays Martha, also explained that as part of her approach, she "decided on purpose not to know much about the real person because it's not really helpful".

"I'm not doing an impersonation of her," she added. "All I'm doing is interpreting this character, so I didn't really do any backstory aside from what was in the scripts."

Is Martha in Baby Reindeer based on a real person?

Jessica Gunning as Martha smiling and looking at Donny while holding a restaurant menu and sitting down facing each other.
Jessica Gunning as Martha in Baby Reindeer. Netflix

Yes, Martha in Baby Reindeer is a fictionalised version of Gadd's real-life stalker.

Gadd gave Baby Reindeer's stalker character the name "Martha" for his one-man show at the 2019 Edinburgh Festival Fringe – and now for the TV series – to keep her identity hidden.

However, since it has landed on Netflix, Baby Reindeer has prompted armchair detectives to speculate who the real people behind the characters may be.

Gadd himself has urged audiences not to speculate on anyone's identities on Instagram, writing: "Please don't speculate on who any of the real-life people could be. That's not the point of our show, " with fellow cast member Jessica Gunning – who plays stalker Martha – echoing the sentiment during a chat with Glamour.

"Netflix and Richard went to extreme lengths to try and make sure that the identities were kept private for a reason... I deliberately didn't want to do an impersonation of somebody. I wanted to do an interpretation of this character."

Asked whether she found it problematic that Gadd based Martha on a real person, Gunning told Radio Times magazine in a recent interview: "I wouldn’t use the word problematic, I would say, maybe, sensitive. I absolutely saw Martha as a character, I wasn’t doing an impersonation of a real person. She was very clear to me in the script, but I genuinely didn’t know anything about the real person.

"But Richard is playing a character as well. When I was acting with him, I felt like he was a character. I didn’t feel like we were re-enacting scenes for some documentary, it felt like we were doing interpretations of these characters in this emotionally true world."

In the show, Martha is eventually imprisoned for nine months for stalking Donny and receives a five-year restraining order.

In an interview with The Times, Richard said that the stalking issue is "resolved". He added that he had "mixed feelings about it" as he "didn't want to throw someone who was that level of mentally unwell in prison".

Are the emails in Baby Reindeer real?

Yes, the contents of the emails shown on screen are actually real.

Netflix confirmed this fact in a reel on Instagram, adding in the caption: "These are all real emails from the @mrrichardgadd's irl stalker."

Anyone affected by Richard Gadd's story can find support by visiting the NHS website or contacting Victim Support.

All seven episodes of Baby Reindeer are now available to stream on Netflix. Sign up for Netflix from £4.99 a month. Netflix is also available on Sky Glass and Virgin Media Stream.

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