If you listen to one podcast in 2021, make it Sweet Bobby. Stylist spoke to Kirat Assi, the woman at the centre of 10 years of deception and abuse that form the case for the most shocking true crime story of the year.
In 2021, our appetite for true crime, particularly in podcast form, has never been stronger. What began with the likes of Serial back in 2014 has grown into one of the most popular podcast genres. And joining the infamy of Up and Vanished, My Favourite Murder and Dirty John this year comes Sweet Bobby, the shocking and chart-topping show we all seem to be listening to.
2021’s ultimate “Have you heard it?”, Sweet Bobby tells the unbelievable true story of Kirat Assi, the British woman at the centre of a web of lies that controlled and destroyed 10 years of her life.
Hosted by investigative journalist Alexi Mostrous and from the makers of Finding Q and The Slow Newscast, it begins as most social media catfishing stories do. On Facebook, Kirat is approached by Bobby, a cardiologist vaguely known to her. What begins as a friendship becomes tangled in a relationship of lies and manipulation.
But as the truth begins to unravel, we learn how one person used more than 50 online personas to slowly and methodically rip apart a woman’s life from a scarily close distance.
“It’s been a nearly 10-year period of deceit, deliberately targeting me and destroying all parts of my life,” Kirat tells Stylist.
“I was approached for friendship at first,” she explains. “I wasn’t online looking for love or anything like that. I’m fairly private and was just speaking to a number of people online, including my cousin in the real world. For some of them I knew their family or people who knew them.
“And over the years I was leaned on as a crutch by this central character ‘Bobby’; he referred to me as a big sister. It was five years into the deception, when he was a very sick man, that he confessed to being in love with me. It took me a few months to give in, and at that point, I was giving a dying man the wish of supposedly wanting to be in a relationship with me. Except he never died.”
Throughout the podcast’s live, multi-part investigation in search of one of the world’s most sophisticated catfishers, we learn not only how easily social media can be weaponised as a tool of abuse and coercion, but the deep personal impact that had on Kirat herself.
“I needed to have control of the narrative,” she says about starting the podcast. “On a personal level being able to tell the story so that people believe that this can happen. And then making sure that those difficult things that people can’t understand are explained in some way.”
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In the depths of the deception, Kirat says that they found around 60 false social media profiles, attached to a number of phone numbers across social media platforms. “Why would I ever consider that in a group chat of 39 people, 38 weren’t real?”
However, the podcast isn’t simply a whodunnit, and it’s never a secret that someone close to Kirat is toying with her life. While the identity of the individual is revealed in episode three, what strikes listeners the most is just how heavily Kirat was involved in almost every aspect of “Bobby’s” life, and for so long too.
“I wasn’t in a romantic relationship until six years after the deception had started,” she stresses. “That’s a really long time and then I was stuck in this controlling relationship. Every time I tried to get away, there was a medical emergency or a crisis. The medical staff were telling me: he only listens to you, can you get him to try and eat? I was constantly being leaned on.”
However, Kirat says that the podcast, and its popularity, has been somewhat of a comfort to her following the abuse she endured. “I had to do a lot of healing myself to even be able to do the podcast. “If I hadn’t been a strong person to start with, I wouldn’t have gotten through the abuse because it was so bad. It’s even more difficult for me to speak up within my [Sikh] community, especially when the perpetrator is from that community.”
“I don’t even want to think about that person,” Kirat replies when asked about her feelings towards the perpetrator now, three years from the revelation but a decade after the abuse began.
“They knew the position that I was in and that nobody would believe me, because nobody would believe that someone like them could do something like that.
“I’m angry at their arrogance, I’m angry that they didn’t say sorry. I gave them plenty of chances even legally before everything was in the public domain. They had opportunities. It’s a fact that they kept trying to get me to shut up while they carried on living their life after destroying mine. But I am still scared of them, I think.”
As the later podcast episodes explore, Kirat took the case to the Crown Prosecution Service and brought civil action against the perpetrator, which was settled out of court in 2020.
Because she says she had a hard time getting the authorities to act on her experience, she hopes that in light of the podcast, domestic abuse and coercive control can better be understood both on and offline.
As part of this, Kirat is passionate about social media accountability. “There were times with the other victims and I had reported certain things. The social media companies, Facebook etc, will have known something was wrong but nothing was done.”
“It’s so important to be able to speak out and catfishing isn’t just the female issue. But the more people that speak out, the more likely it is that there will be a change in the law somewhere. We need to push that agenda really, really quickly. It’s hurting a lot of people.”
Sweet Bobby, from Tortoise Media, is available to listen on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.
Images: Tortoise Media