The dangerous fallout from Baby Reindeer: should Richard Gadd have been less honest about his abusers? | Television

Baby Reindeer was only released a little over a week ago, and already it has become a sensation. Richard Gadd’s adaptation of his 2019 Edinburgh festival one-man show, which in turn was a dramatisation of the ordeals he had been through at the hands of a stalker and a powerful abuser respectively, has not only been the most watched Netflix show in the UK, but made the top 10 in 12 other countries.

And quite right too, since it’s as gripping and queasy and uncomfortable a show as you’re ever likely to see. But unintended consequences can come with success. The narrative surrounding Baby Reindeer has moved away from the show this week and into the real world. Besides its lead, the show is essentially about two people: a middle-aged woman who spent years inundating Gadd with thousands of unwanted messages to the detriment of his wellbeing, and a successful older writer who subjected Gadd to a prolonged period of sexual abuse. And while Baby Reindeer attempted to gloss over the true identity of these figures, the internet has, unfortunately, been busy.

In recent days, online sleuths have found online accounts purportedly belonging to Gadd’s real-life stalker, and have been speculating wildly about the identity of his abuser. This reached fever pitch on Monday, meaning Gadd had to dampen things down on Instagram. He said that people he loves and admires were “unfairly getting caught up in speculation. Please don’t speculate on who any of the real-life people could be. That’s not the point of our show.”

‘That’s not the point of the show’ … online sleuths have been trying to discern the truth about the character named Darrien. Photograph: Courtesy of Netflix

Which might be true, since Baby Reindeer is a complex drama. But any show that openly states it is based on a true story will always invite internet detectives. And if the result of that is that innocent people are now being wrongly accused of being abusers online, that’s a problem. The tension at the heart of Baby Reindeer is that the story is real. Gadd was stalked, and suffered abuse. And the knowledge that these things happened gives the whole endeavour its electric charge. But equally, the knowledge that the writer and star is retelling traumas that he endured also means that the series cannot be viewed solely as a work of art.

People were always going to start trying to join the dots. The internet has done so for decades. Even Fleabag, a much less thematically explosive show, drew a similar level of attention, to the extent that Phoebe Waller-Bridge publicly expressed regret for harming her family by not protecting them from all the guesswork. This is the wider context in which Baby Reindeer was released, and to have not seen this coming seems like an oversight on the part of Netflix.

It could all have have been prevented so easily. In some of the press reports about Baby Reindeer, Gadd has suggested that a huge effort had gone into separating the fictional stalker from the real-life stalker as a way of protecting the latter from undue attention. Yet enough details of her life, and her messaging, are included in the drama that amateur investigators immediately set about trying to identify her. Similarly, regardless of the actual identity of Gadd’s abuser, the show has resulted in several people in the public eye being hounded by speculation. Wouldn’t it have been safer to fudge the details more comprehensively?

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Gadd has said efforts were made to conceal the real-life identity of his stalker, who is known as Martha in the show. Photograph: Ed Miller/Netflix

True, the show is based on a stage show that made the reality of Gadd’s experiences even more explicit, but the percentage of Netflix’s 269 million subscribers with a working knowledge of Edinburgh fringe shows from half a decade ago is presumably quite small. Leaving off the “true story” disclaimer could have thrown the majority of people off the scent.

It has become hard to think of Baby Reindeer the show without considering the fallout it has generated. While the instinct might have initially been to see Gadd as brave for so fearlessly retelling the story of what must have been an impossibly harrowing time, it’s now difficult to see it free of the consequences it has brought on itself.

There’s nothing entertaining or fun about the worst percentage of the internet doxing women with mental health problems, or scattergunning accusations of abuse at celebrities for fun, and yet this is what has happened. Baby Reindeer has cemented its status as one of the year’s most uncomfortable shows.

In the UK, the National Stalking Helpline is on 0808 802 0300 or email via their inquiry form. In the US, resources are available at

Information and support for anyone affected by rape or sexual abuse issues is available from the following organisations. In the UK, Rape Crisis offers support on 0808 500 2222 in England and Wales, 0808 801 0302 in Scotland, or 0800 0246 991 in Northern Ireland. In the US, Rainn offers support on 800-656-4673. In Australia, support is available at 1800Respect (1800 737 732). Other international helplines can be found at


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