Baby Reindeer: should Netflix have seen all the amateur sleuths coming?

Nothing entertaining about doxing women with mental health problems, or accusing celebrities of abuse for fun

Richard Gadd and Jessica Gunning in Baby Reindeer. Photograph: Netflix
Richard Gadd and Jessica Gunning in Baby Reindeer. Photograph: Netflix

Baby Reindeer was released a little more than 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 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.”

Baby Reindeer’s Richard Gadd on the true story behind the show: ‘People are afraid to admit they made mistakes’Opens in new window ]

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 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?

‘It has become hard to think of Baby Reindeer the show without considering the fallout it has generated’

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. – The Guardian

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre can by contacting their 24-hour free helpline: 1800 77 8888, the Samaritans can be contacted on freephone 116123, or email