His abrasive, straight-talking go-getting attitude was anathema to much of the French media, who were almost obsessive in their condemnation of his personal style.
Hard to believe if you live outside France - the hysterical fuss in the media over his 2007 victory party in an expensive Paris restaurant and his decision to take a three-day-break on a millionaire’s yacht before officially taking office as president.
Some now say this moment five years ago was when Sarkozy lost the 2012 election.
He never recovered from the damage caused to his image and was dogged to the end by the “bling bling” and “president of the rich” labels.
That’s why newly-elected president and self-styled “Mr. Normal” François Hollande is being so careful.
Hollande’s partner, Valerie Trierweiler, a journalist with Paris Match magazine (bought primarily for its photos and celebrity coverage), understands the importance of image.
She is credited with Hollande’s physical transformation, between 2007 and the launch in spring 2011 of his bid to become president.
He lost over ten kilos in weight, bought modern frameless glasses, and it is rumoured, began dying his hair to appear young and energetic.
The next part of the operation was to project the idea of a simple, ordinary man, who was discreet about his family life – a million miles from Sarko with his Ray-Ban sunglasses and public romances.
By all accounts, Hollande is not especially materialistic. The value of his assets, revealed today is a reasonable-sounding 1.17 million euros.
During his campaign he was photographed riding his scooter and doing his shopping at the local market in Tulle, his rural base.
On the night of his election, the car which transported him from his office in Tulle to the town centre was a small hatchback.
But less than a week after his election, is the image thing coming unstuck?
Hollande and his entourage took 2 private falcon jets from Tulle to Paris on Sunday night so that he could join revellers in Place de la Bastille in Paris.
The couple advertise their normalness by living in a pleasant, though not overly expensive neighbourhood, but Valerie is getting fed up with journalists camping in their street. On Thursday she tweeted a plea to her “journalist colleagues” to understand the inconvenience it caused to her neighbours. Some tweeted back that she was no longer a colleague but a public figure.
And the discreet relationship is taking a celebrity turn…In this week’s Le Point, she writes the commentary to a series of five photos, capturing “key moments” in her life, including one in which she is chatting Hollande, before their “story” began.
Jean-François Copé, leader of the defeated Sarkozy’s UMP party, has already had enough.
“Can I suggest everyone comes down to earth?” he said yesterday listing the television images this week of Hollande “….we’ve seen him buying his cornflakes at the supermarket…the phone call with his son.”
Ahead of next week’s official handover of power between Sarkozy and Hollande, for the media it’s a strange in-between period in France.
The Socialists are struggling to hide their excitement but keen to appear sobre, while on the right, there is still considerable political tension.
Parliamentary elections, (which run to two rounds in many constituencies) take place in June, so the bloodletting and blame games must wait…but there is reason to believe that rejection of Sarkozy, or his image, was what won the election for François Hollande.
Hollande might not make the same mistakes with the media, but some journalists say they’ll miss Sarkozy. He was an extraordinary political phenomenon and he gave them a hell of a ride.