Sir Elton John becomes a father

Friends of Sir Elton John congratulated him today after he became a father to a baby boy born on Christmas Day.

Actress Elizabeth Hurley was among the first to offer her best wishes to the singer and his civil partner David Furnish, whose son Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John was born in California to a surrogate.

Writing on Twitter, she said: "Massive congratulations to David and Elton on having their beautiful son. Can't wait for my first cuddle."

Zachary, who weighed 7lb 15oz, is Sir Elton's first child with Furnish. The couple's civil partnership was formalised in 2005.

The news that they had become parents was first reported by and confirmed by Sir Elton's Los Angeles-based publicist.

In a joint statement, the couple told the magazine that "Zachary is healthy and doing well" and declared themselves "overwhelmed with happiness and joy at this very special moment".

The identity of their son's surrogate mother is being protected by the new parents.

Sir Elton had spoken previously of his desire to become a father, announcing last autumn that he wanted to adopt a 14-month-old boy from an orphanage in Ukraine.

He revealed that the couple had always talked about adoption but that it was Furnish who wanted to do it and he who had objected as he is in his 60s.

It was the death of his long-term keyboardist, Guy Babylon, that helped changed his mind in the end. Mr Babylon, who died of a heart attack aged 52 last year, had two children whom the singer described as "wonderful".

He said at the time: "What better opportunity to replace someone I lost than to replace him with someone I can give a future to?"

But his plans to adopt were reportedly thwarted by Ukrainian laws.

Sir Elton and Furnish are following in the footsteps of millionaires Barrie and Tony Drewitt-Barlow, who became Britain's first gay surrogate parents in 1999.

The Essex couple have five surrogate children and made history when both were named on the infants' birth certificates.

Like Sir Elton's son Zachary, the Drewitt-Barlows' first babies - twins Aspen and Saffron - were born to a surrogate mother in California.

While surrogacy has increasingly become an option for gay couples in the UK over the past decade or so, it is tightly regulated under British law and couples often consider travelling abroad, where the rules are less strict.

California is recognised as being generally accepting of surrogacy agreements, including those that involve gay and lesbian parents.

Stonewall's Guide for Gay Dads reminds would-be homosexual parents in the UK that under the 2008 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, the birth mother of a child born through a surrogacy arrangement is always considered the legal parent until this is changed by the courts.

The 63-year-old rock legend, who announced in the autumn that his days of writing hit songs were over, is not the first celebrity to opt for surrogate parenthood.

Sex And The City star Sarah Jessica Parker's twin daughters, Tabitha and Marion, were born via a surrogate last year.

In July, mystery surrounded the identity of the mother of footballer Cristiano Ronaldo's baby, with Portuguese press speculating he had arranged a surrogate.

The former Manchester United winger set tongues wagging when he said he had "exclusive guardianship" of the child.

But the Real Madrid star insisted that the identify of the mother would be kept confidential.