The True Story Behind 'Baby Reindeer' and What Happened to Martha in Real Life

Richard Gadd as Donny and Jessica Gunning as Martha in 'Baby Reindeer'

Baby Reindeer is Netflix’s latest surprise sensation. The British limited series has climbed to the top of the streaming service’s daily top 10 chart on the strength of word-of-mouth, as people recommend the riveting, based-on-a-true-story psychological thriller to their friends. And as it achieves meme status, viewers have been wondering about the real story behind the show. Let's dig in.

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What is Baby Reindeer about?

Baby Reindeer may sound like a cute Christmas movie, but it’s actually a very dark, thematically and tonally complex drama. It’s created by and stars Scottish comedian Richard Gadd, who based the show on disturbing events that really happened to him when he was younger.

Gadd plays Donny Dunn, a bartender and aspiring comedian living in London. He’s lonely and depressed and has very low self-esteem. He meets Martha Scott (Jessica Gunning), an obviously mentally unwell woman, when she comes into his bar. He feels empathy for her, and she takes a liking to him. But it very quickly escalates to obsession, as she starts spending hours in the bar every day and emailing him incessantly when she’s not in the bar, often with sexually suggestive messages.

But even though he’s uncomfortable with her behavior, Donny indulges in the attention. As her obsession intensifies, Donny finds out that she served prison time for stalking, and his attempts to get her to leave him alone fail—until they don’t. And when Martha is gone, he becomes obsessed with her. As the story continues, we find out more about Donny’s traumatic past that led to his own mental health issues. And it culminates in closure on his toxic relationship with Martha.

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Is Baby Reindeer based on a true story?

Baby Reindeer is adapted from two semi-autobiographical one-man shows Gadd wrote and performed: 2016’s Monkey See Monkey Do, which dramatized his experience being sexually abused by an older man he thought was helping him with his career, and 2019’s Baby Reindeer, which told the stalking story.

Gadd says that everything in the show is “emotionally 100% true” and based on something that actually happened—“I was severely stalked and severely abused”—even if it happened quite differently in real life than how it plays out on the show. The chronology has been adjusted, and events have been “tweaked slightly to create dramatic climaxes,” Gadd explained to The Guardian.

“It’s all borrowed from instances that happened to me and real people that I met,” Gadd told Variety. “But of course, you can’t do the exact truth, for both legal and artistic reasons. I mean there’s certain protections, you can’t just copy somebody else’s life and name and put it onto television. And obviously, we were very aware that some characters in it are vulnerable people, so you don’t want to make their lives more difficult. So you have to change things to protect yourself and protect other people.”

Jessica Gunning as Martha in 'Baby Reindeer'<p>Ed Miller/Netflix</p>
Jessica Gunning as Martha in 'Baby Reindeer'

Ed Miller/Netflix

How did things end between Richard Gadd and his real-life stalker?

Like he does in the show, Gadd eventually went to the police about his stalker. He talked about it a little bit in an interview with British GQ, saying, “The first thing the police should do is try to preserve the safety of the person who is making the report rather than going through a long, arduous process to work out whether they should believe them or not.” This is sort of what happens to Donny, as the police alternate between taking him seriously and not.

In an interview with The Times, Gadd said the issue with his stalker is “resolved,” adding that he had mixed feelings about how it happened. “I didn’t want to throw someone who was that level of mentally unwell in prison,” he said.

Who is the real-life Martha from Baby Reindeer and where is she now?

Gadd told Variety that he cannot talk about the real person on whom Martha is based for legal reasons. Nor can he give viewers any insight into what happened to the real Martha. But he did say that he's not worried about her trying to contact him after the success of the show. “Due to where things ended in real life, it’s not a concern for me,” he said.

Gadd has no idea how she would react to Baby Reindeer on Netflix. “Her reactions to things varied so much that I almost couldn't predict how she’d react to anything,” he told GQ. "She was quite an idiosyncratic person. We’ve gone to such great lengths to disguise her to the point that I don’t think she would recognize herself.”

But some people might have recognized her. Online sleuths believe they have found social media profiles belonging to Gadd’s former stalker. We will refrain from including details here, as she is a private citizen who is not named by Gadd in his work. (And Gadd himself has asked fans to stop digging, saying in an 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.”) But if it is her, she appears to still be living in London.

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