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Ex­ploita­tive, per­haps — but this was dy­na­mite TV

When Piers Morgan sits down to interview a guest who is by turns chatty, surly, evasive and possibly experiencing an adverse mental health episode, they usually turn out to be former US president Donald Trump. It was Morgan’s Trump sitdown in 2022 which served as the launch interview for his Talk TV show Piers Morgan Uncensored.

But PMU has been an internet-only affair since February this year, so a world exclusive interview with an equally inscrutable guest — in this case a Scottish woman who once walked into a London pub and was given a free cup of tea — might have felt like a comedown.

But in fact, it was the opposite, because the woman in question was Fiona Harvey on whom the now notorious “Martha” from the smash hit Netflix drama Baby Reindeer is based. Martha, you will remember, walked into the Hawley Arms in Camden where the struggling comedian/barman Richard Gadd (he’s called Donny Dunn in the drama) gifted her that now infamous hot beverage.

Martha soon becomes Donny’s stalker and, more than 56 million Netflix viewings later, Harvey finds herself at the centre of one of the most extraordinary intersections of TV fact and fiction ever.

Did Harvey really bombard Gadd with more than 41,000 emails, 744 tweets, over 100 pages of letters and 350 hours of voicemails in four years? Did she really sexually assault him by a canal?

Less pressingly, but no less interesting, what’s up with her spelling? One of the highlights of Baby Reindeer for me was imagining the deranged keyboard thumb-work that gave us “Sent form my iphoen” instead of “sent from my iPhone”. Equally intriguing: Martha didn’t have an iPhone, she just pretended to have one to look sophisticated.

Harvey sat in the PMU chair looking coiffed and composed, rather like a Mastermind finalist, albeit one whose specialist subject was “egregious campaigns of unwanted attention conducted over mixed media and sometimes in the pub”.

Morgan immediately went in hard as per the brief advertised on X: “Is she a psycho stalker?”. In fact, when Harvey sometimes appeared confused by his questioning, I was worried Morgan might clarify with “Do you follow me Martha?” which could have had disastrous long-term consequences.

Morgan asked her to explain the 41,000 emails and she tried her best to make it all sound like a butter-fingered “Reply All” to a book group. “No, I think there may have been a couple of emails exchanging,” she claimed. The 744 Tweets? “It’s about 18 Tweets,” she asserted before claiming she’d only met Gadd three times ever.

Her recollection of her first meeting with Gadd was extraordinary. She said he never offered her a cup of tea because she was actually eating a meal and drinking lemonade with a friend. In fact, it was he who interrupted her, deploying the peerless ice-breaker “Oh you’re Scottish”. Thereafter, she conceded, they did share some “Scottish banter” though it was Gadd who later became obsessed.

And what did this obsession look like? Vegetarians and romantics look away now. Fans of the drama will recall Martha flirtatiously offering to cook Donny a special dish of “beef curtains”. Harvey insisted to Morgan that it was Gadd who asked “Would I like my curtains fixed?”. Her response? “I don’t fancy little boys without jobs,” she wafted. Ouch.

Harvey was more convincing when she claimed, contrary to the events depicted in the drama, that she had never smashed up a bar, harassed Gadd’s parents at their home in Scotland or served a prison sentence. But in her fury she seemed almost to concede some of the earlier stuff. “Even if the email thing was true, the rest is not,” she added.

Morgan railed against Netflix’s failings on “duty of care” (online sleuths discovered Martha’s real identity within hours of Baby Reindeer’s first broadcast, and she claims to have received death threats). Morgan was even-handed throughout, though some will ask why Harvey agreed to this grilling in the first place. There must have been easier ways to share her side of the story.

The encounter was no Frost/Nixon, and for cringe value it sometimes gave Maitlis/Prince Andrew a run for its money. When Harvey embarked on a baroque explanation as to why she owned four mobile phones (she likes to keep work calls, friendships and communications with utility companies separate) she actually began to make the Duke of York’s now notorious “I can’t sweat” monologue sound like it was due for reappraisal as a rock-solid piece of reasoning.

Ditto when Morgan pressed Harvey on having six different email addresses, telling her he didn’t know anyone else with six, she retorted: “You don’t know many people then.” Say what you like about Morgan, but accusing the notorious media flâneur of not knowing many people seemed a weak line of attack. So, what did we learn? Well, someone is lying. Either Baby Reindeer or this PMU interview serves as a masterclass in DARVO (deny, attack, reverse victim and offender), a well-known strategy used by perpetrators in domestic violence cases. At the very least it will make Netflix lawyers think twice before allowing “This is a true story” to appear on drama credits again anytime soon.


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