Like Emily Maitlis, my life was turned upside down by stalking

Rowena Macdonald
A stalker has harassed Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis for two decades  - 2016 David M. Benett

When I hear about high-profile instances of stalking I feel I got off lightly. I was 33 and single, having just been through a bad break-up, when I received a Facebook message from a man telling me he thought I had ‘amazing beauty’.

Like me, he worked in Parliament, though in a different department, so we’d never met. I exchanged a few messages with him and, though I didn’t fancy him, I found him interesting, so I agreed to go for lunch.

The day we were due to meet he was off sick. I realised I felt relieved, so when he emailed to set a new date I told him I’d changed my mind. That’s when he started pestering me. He emailed me repeatedly and called my office phone, begging to meet. He said, ‘I only want to meet as friends. I love your voice. I just want to talk to you.’

I asked him to stop, but the calls kept coming. One evening, he left a message saying he’d rung my voicemail just to hear my voice. I threatened to contact HR but he pleaded with me not to. Out of pity, I didn’t.

He sent me poems and messages saying he liked what I was wearing. It made me feel dirty

We’d never met in person but occasionally I passed him in the corridor and recognised him from Facebook – I kept my head down and he didn’t approach me. Every few weeks he would go quiet, then it would start again. He sent poems and messages saying he liked what I was wearing, or how I’d done my hair. It made me feel dirty.

I told my friends and their concern made me worry even more. What if he followed me home? Things came to a head when he emailed to say he felt suicidal. Totally freaked out, I asked how I could help but got no reply. In desperation, I contacted one of his Facebook friends who told me he was safe but off work suffering from depression.

For months I heard nothing. Then, one day, I got an email from a man whose name I didn’t recognise. He claimed he had met me in a Parliamentary bar. It was possible we’d both been to a colleague’s leaving party, so when he invited me for lunch, I accepted.

‘Are you sure he isn’t your stalker?’ asked a friend. That’s when the penny dropped.

Author Rowena Macdonald Credit: Nick Kaplony

I emailed him right away. ‘I know it’s you,’ I wrote. I asked him why he’d done it and he said it made him feel closer to me. This time I told HR: I wanted the matter on record, but asked them not to contact him in case it made things worse. He emailed me once more from yet another address, but I ignored him and finally – 12 months after it all began – the messages stopped.

I heard nothing more until a few years later when, out of curiosity, I Googled him and discovered he had started a new career. By then I had moved on. I was in a happy relationship but the incident left its mark. 

These days I’m much more cautious. I was able to channel my experience into a novel, which felt cathartic and my Facebook security settings are tighter and I am more wary when I meet new people – especially suspiciously flattering ones. 

The Threat Level Remains Severe by Rowena MacDonald is out now from Belgravia Books