Real-Life Donny Dunn In ‘Baby Reindeer’: What Is Richard Gadd’s True Story?


It must be quite a shock to find out that Baby Reindeer’s protagonist, Donny Dunn, is actually based on Richard Gadd’s real-life experiences, where he dealt with a stalker who turned his life upside down. Donny’s character is very close to Gadd’s real-life persona, which might be one of the reasons why viewers would find a lot of similarities between the two (which I am going to discuss in the article). Martha’s character, on the other hand, had a lot of fictional elements created in order to fill the gaps in the story and convey the message that Gadd wanted to deliver. Obviously, being a responsible artist, Gadd changed the name of his stalker before turning his experience into a solo stage play and a Netflix limited series of the same name. He didn’t want “his” Martha to feel attacked in any way whatsoever. And it would be better if her true identity remained hidden because, in the age of the internet, we never know what trolls might do to her.

Gadd’s real-life story is quite similar to the beginning of the show, where we find him working in a bar in London. Much like his fictional counterpart, Gadd was born in Fife, Scotland, on May 11, 1989. He took part in a lot of school productions and later decided to pursue a career in entertainment. So, like most artists in the world, he arrived at the heart of the entertainment industry to try his luck and do various odd jobs to sustain himself in the big city, much like Donny. Gadd was in his late twenties when he first met his stalker in a bar where he worked and decided to offer her a free cup of tea. Martha was touched by Gadd’s friendly gesture and soon became obsessed with him. As per Gadd’s interview, the older woman sent him numerous emails, tweets, Facebook messages, voicemails, handwritten letters, and whatnot. She also sent him a cuddly reindeer toy. That happened to be her pet name for Gadd as well.

It was that time in Gadd’s life when he was enjoying the success of his most recent play, Monkey See Monkey Do, which won an award for best comedy show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2016. Gadd continued performing the play at various venues in London while his “Martha” kept dropping several voicemails on his phone, seeking love and validation. In his interview, Gadd never revealed how Martha got his number. However, his email ID, Twitter, and Facebook accounts were quite easy to find for her. She even attended his shows and turned up outside his house. Following this stalker incident, Gadd closed down all his social media accounts and is currently active on Instagram only. Real-life Martha even harassed Gadd’s parents and called his father a pedophile. However, the police refused to help him out because they needed some concrete evidence or a suggestion of a physical threat to take action against his stalker.

Netflix’s Baby Reindeer also takes a few elements and storylines from Gadd’s previous stage shows, one of which was Monkey See Monkey Do. In that, Gadd talks about being sexually abused at a party by a gay man somewhere in 2012, when he had first gotten into the industry. Those who have watched the show will recognize this to be a reference to Donny’s abuser in the show i.e., Darrien O’Conner, and how he traumatized him for the rest of his life. Teri’s character, on the other hand, seems entirely fictional. Gadd, who recognizes himself as a bisexual man, went through a similar experience in the past and was afraid of being judged in society like Donny.

In real life, Gadd turned his story of sexual assault into a play that brought him much-needed recognition in the world of theater. In the series, a similar incident takes place when Donny’s breakdown during the comedy show ends up becoming a viral video that makes him famous. In both cases, he kept receiving various voicemails from his stalker, which he had to deal with.

As per the show’s timeline, Martha entered Donny’s life on August 14, 2015, and finally walked out on March 22, 2017, when he got her arrested and imprisoned for stalking him and harassing his parents. In real life, too, Gadd’s inbox was flooded with Martha’s voicemails. The police had refused to help for the reasons already mentioned in the series. They didn’t find Martha’s behavior predatory, and therefore, Gadd kept on listening to her voice messages filled with a varied range of emotions, waiting for her to say something incriminating that could be used against her in a court of law. Most likely, Gadd found one and was able to get rid of his stalker. However, the show’s ending is quite different from what happened in real life. No, Gadd didn’t go back to his predator. Instead, he became more and more restless at night and finally came up with the idea to turn his nightmares into a stage show. It took him two and a half years to finalize the script. He kept on listening to Martha’s voicemails to be able to accurately portray the human side of her so as not to turn her into some monstrous figure. As an artist, one can feel angry or annoyed with things that happen to them in real life, but when presenting them to an audience, an artist has to be very respectful and cautious with every word they speak. That was the reason why Gadd introduced a final voicemail at the end of the show, where we find out that Martha’s traumatic childhood had a larger role to play in carving her personality. In short, predatory behavior is a kind of mental illness that can stem from past experiences, and it is important for Donny (as a victim) to understand that. After a thorough rewrite and scrutiny, Gadd finally performed his play at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2019. As of now, Gadd resides in London and is currently working on his next BBC series, Lions.

Quick fact: Richard Gadd had also worked as a wrestling ring announcer, which hints at the possibility that his script, Hangman Harry, presented in Netflix’s series, is based on his real-life experiences as well, as it deals with a similar subject. In real life, Gadd is also a screenwriter and has written an episode for Netflix’s adult comedy-drama show Sex Education. In addition to that, Gadd is the ambassador of We Are Survivors through which he helps male victims of sexual assault.

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Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 12 years, writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

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