Is Netflix’s ‘Baby Reindeer’ A True Story?

How much of Netflix's 'Baby Reindeer' actually happened?
The true story behind Netflix's 'Baby Reindeer.'

True crime enthusiasts are likely to have already binge-watched Netflix’s Baby Reindeer, a TV show based on Scottish comedian Richard Gadd’s experience with a stalker.

Starring as a fictionalised version of himself, Donny Dunn, the show draws from Gadd’s own life and comedy sets, Baby Reindeer and Monkey See Monkey Do, to offer both a deeply unsettling and complex look at stalking and its impact on victims.

Several weeks after the show captured the attention of viewers around the world, the woman Gadd allegedly based the show’s stalker character on has hit back at claims the series is a true story. In an interview with Piers Morgan, Fiona Harvey—who was accused by a frenzy of social media users as being the ‘Real Life Martha’—said she is taking legal action against Gadd and Netflix. While Harvey did admit to knowing Gadd, she claims the show is “A work of fiction, it’s a work of hyperbole.”

So how much of the Baby Reindeer is actually a true story? We unpack how Harvey’s statements sit alongside Netflix’s claims the show is real.

The true story of 'Baby Reindeer.'
(Credit: Netflix)

Is Baby Reindeer A True Story?

Technically yes, Baby Reindeer is based on Gadd’s real life experiences with a 42-year-old female stalker when he was in his 20s.

The real story reportedly began how it begins in the show—Gadd was a struggling comedian working in a bar when a woman in her early forties began talking to him. Gadd felt bad for the woman—named Martha in the show—and offered her a cup of tea. From there, ‘Martha’ began an obsession with Gadd.

“At first everyone at the pub thought it was funny that I had an admirer. Then she started to invade my life, following me, turning up at my gigs, waiting outside my house, sending thousands of voicemails and emails,” Gadd told The Times about his experience

Over four and a half years, Gadd’s stalker allegedly sent 41,071 emails, 350 hours’ of voicemails, 744 tweet, 106 pages of letters, 46 Facebook messages, many strange gifts, including a toy reindeer, woolly hat, sleeping pills and boxer shorts.

She also frequently followed Gadd to his home, work and stage at the comedy clubs, as well as harassing his parents and someone he was dating.

How Does The Baby Reindeer Netflix Show Compare To The Real Story?

The show doesn’t gloss over the complexities of the experiencing, with Gadd being the first he made some mistakes with ‘Martha.’

“The foolish flirting. The cowardly excuses as to why we could not be together. Not to mention the themes of internalised prejudice and sexual shame that underpinned it all,” Gadd wrote in a statement when the show debuted.

“It felt like a risky thing — to do a ‘warts and all’ version of the story where I held my hands up to the mistakes I had made with Martha. I could not shy away from the truth of what had happened to me. This was a messy, complicated situation. But one that needed to be told, regardless.”

Sticking to the truth as much as possible, the emails that appear in the series are scarily, the same emails that Gadd actually received.

The show is also accurate in its portrayal of Gadd’s sexual assault and trauma, with Gadd having been groomed, drugged and sexually assaulted by an older man he had turned to for career advice.

Baby Reindeer was [about] the messiness of my early twenties. I’d fallen for someone who was trans but with that came a lot of questioning and all of this unfortunate shame that you have when you’re young. When somebody like Martha came along I saw it as some kind of weird bent to my manhood. You take this guy’s life. He’s just been through sexual violence but he’s trying to be a comedian. He’s indulging this woman who buffers his heteronormativity but he’s dating a trans woman and being very secretive about it. It was taking this character and putting him between these big extremes,” Gadd explained to GQ.

“What abuse does, is it creates psychological damage as well as physical damage. There’s a pattern where a lot of people who have been abused feel like they need their abusers.”

On the other side of things, the show intentionally changes many aspects of the stalker’s personality and appearance to protect her identity.

“Of course, this is a medium where structure is so important, you need to change things to protect people… but I like to think, artistically, that it never moved too far from the truth,” Gadd told GQ.

“I honestly couldn’t speak as to whether she would watch it. Her reactions to things varied so much that I almost couldn’t predict how she’d react to anything. We’ve gone to such great lengths to disguise her to the point that I don’t think she would recognise herself. What’s been borrowed is an emotional truth, not a fact-by-fact profile of someone.”

However, if the show ever “veered too much into embellishment I would always want to pull it back. It’s extremely emotionally truthful.”

Where Is The Real ‘Martha’ Now?

Baby Reindeer - where is Martha now?
(Credit: Netflix)

In the Netflix show, Gadd’s character struggles to get the police to take the stalking seriously, however after Martha leaves a threatening voicemail message, she is finally arrested and charged, receiving a nine-month prison sentence and five-year restraining order.

While the police struggle is very similar to what Gadd went through, he’s suggested that the real life Martha did not go to prison. In the interview with the times, Gadd explained that he “didn’t want to throw someone who was that level of mentally unwell in prison.”

Gadd has also said that he has “mixed feelings about it” but the situation was “resolved.”

“I can’t emphasize enough how much of a victim she is in all this,” Gadd told The Independent. “Stalking and harassment is a form of mental illness. It would have been wrong to paint her as a monster, because she’s unwell, and the system’s failed her.”

Upon the show’s release, Gadd did not name the real-life woman who Martha was based on and actually asked people to avoid trying to find out. He claimed he had changed enough details about her to make her unidentifiable. However, the internet naturally made attempts to uncover the woman’s identity anyway, with some social media users accusing Scotswoman Fiona Harvey of being Gadd’s stalker.

In May, Harvey sat down for an interview with Piers Morgan. While she confirmed she did in fact know Gadd and had met him in the Hawley Arms pub in Camden, Harvey said the story was hyperbolised and repeatedly denied sending Gadd tens of thousands of emails, as Martha does in the show.

She also told Morgan that she has never destroyed a bar or been convicted of stalking, saying: “Even if the email thing was true, the rest is not.”

At the time of writing, Gadd has not commented on the interview and has not confirmed whether or not Harvey actually is the woman Martha was based on.

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