Will we ever know the truth about Baby Reindeer?

Richard Gadd’s eagerness to win the Victimhood Olympics could soon come back to bite him.

Julie Burchill

Julie Burchill

Topics Culture

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The stalker occupies a shabby, shady, scary niche in the annals of modern crime. Generally, he’s just a modern twist on that age-old blot on humanity – the man who can’t get what he wants from women civilly (being lacking in one or several departments), and so menaces them in the hope of getting it through fear.

Very occasionally, the lines are blurred. Agnetha from Abba had a brief relationship with her stalker, an unprepossessing Dutchman named Gert van der Graaf. Robert Newman wrote a brilliantly funny and shocking short story called Dependence Day in 1994, in which David Bowie turns stalker on a fan. The wit James Maker opines outrageously: ‘Stalkers are merely people to whom we’re not attracted; otherwise, we call them “fiancé(e)s”.’

But stalking really isn’t anything to snigger about – and neither is the typical police ‘response’. The most recent figures show that around seven million people – the vast majority female – in England and Wales have been stalked. Around 80,000 stalking incidents are recorded each year, but less than seven per cent result in a charge by the Crown Prosecution Service and less than two per cent end in a conviction. Perhaps this is to be expected from a force that has been accused of ‘decriminalising’ rape.

Some stalkers get a telling off from the police and stop their stupid, sinister behaviour. But there are far too many cases like that of poor Shana Grice, the 19-year-old murdered by her stalker ex-boyfriend in Brighton in 2016. The student was told by Sussex Police that she was wasting police time after reporting him five times in six months. She was even fined for this ‘offence’. Shortly afterwards, her stalker cut her throat and tried to burn her body. The policeman who called her a liar retired on a full pension.

Yet strangely, stalking is quite ‘hot’ right now. Unless you’re a High Court judge or have been living under a rock, you’ll have heard by now of Baby Reindeer, the deceptively inoffensive-sounding Netflix smash-hit show, written and performed by comedian Richard Gadd. It struck me as an extremely well-written and well-acted drama. But one sensed that Gadd, having chased fame for so long, wasn’t ready to settle just for having a hit show. No, Gadd had to make a bid for the tip-top podium of the Victimhood Olympics – hence the ‘This is a true story’ strap-line hoisting up its skirts and sticking its thumb out at the start of episode one.

One might even say that Gadd was revealing ‘my truth’ or his ‘lived experience’. If he had just changed ‘is a true story’ to ‘based on a true story’, he might not be looking a defamation case in the face right now. He could have, I don’t know, done something creative – like making characters composites, or having a principal character who wasn’t a failing comedian?

My feeling is that Gadd saw his work as therapy. And as many people in therapy do, he became enchanted by the Wonder of Me, intent on becoming the hero of his own story – not by behaving heroically, in this instance, but by talking about his problems as though he was the first person ever to have them.

Here he is speaking to the Guardian in April:

‘I realised that speaking out and saying “I’m struggling” is a form of strength, sloughing off the idea that masculinity was the only form of survival – that was very healing… Some of the scenes we re-enacted on set were really tough – I could even see that some of the props department were choked up, even the lighting people – but we all knew that we were pushing towards something that was important. I hope the show has a certain degree of greater good, and that it was worth a certain degree of self-sacrifice.’

Indeed, one might say that Mr Gadd has self-sacrificed all the way to the bank, apparently going from minor actor to multimillionaire in a few months. But by laying his life out for us like a particularly bacteria-heavy all-you-can-eat buffet, he has naturally attracted the attention of sceptics. Some are now beginning to question his version of events.

I’m also struck that it’s not Gadd’s alleged male rapist – apparently someone big in the TV industry – who is the main villain of the show or who has been catching the most flak in real life. Instead, it has been the obviously powerless woman: Fiona Harvey, the inspiration for stalker Martha Scott. There are shades of Savile (the telly world protecting the ‘talent’) mixed with good old fashioned misogyny here.

Now look, Gadd’s character might be a stale, pale male (not diverse) shaming a fat woman (not inclusive), but he has got a trans girlfriend. Jackpot! While Harvey isn’t someone I’d like to live next door to, she was splendidly dismissive when asked her initial opinion of Gadd in the Piers Morgan Uncensored interview earlier this month: ‘I thought he was gay.’ When there are two penises and no vagina involved in a friendly get-together, that seems a fair enough description.

Netflix specialises in scandalous true stories. Indeed, without the claim of verisimilitude, who knows whether the commissioners would have bought Baby Reindeer, literally – or if audiences would have bought it, metaphorically?

Having sought the spotlight with all the subtlety of the late Freddie Mercury opening the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, Gadd is now trying to play the somewhat bemused, befuddled nice guy: ‘I never wanted to upset someone who was vulnerable’, he says of accusations that he ‘encouraged’ Martha / Fiona to stalk him. Well, if you didn’t want to do that, spreading a detailed examination of her conduct all over Netflix in seven parts probably wasn’t the cleverest thing.

The truth is that Gadd has exposed every corner of himself – and indeed of others – for fame and fortune, humiliating real people in the process. The forthcoming legal ding-dong between Scott and Gadd, and the entertainment corporation that so heedlessly empowered him, could be even better entertainment than Baby Reindeer itself. And this time, there really cannot be a shadow of a doubt that this is a true story.

Julie Burchill’s new play, Making Marilyn, co-authored with Daniel Raven, will be at Brighton Palace Pier in May. Get tickets here.

Picture by: Netflix.

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Topics Culture


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