The 33-year-old from Kent carded his best tournament round of nine-under par 63, with no drops, at the Royal Swazi Sun Country Club to lead the Sunshine Tour event by two-strokes.
Jaco Olver enjoyed his best start as a professional after opening with a 65, while American Bradford Vaughan and Switzerland's Andre Bossert both finished an overcast first day at six-under par.
Richard Fulford was one of the early tournament casualties. Fulford's 13-over par 85 featured an 11 at the par-four second, where he hit two balls out of bounds. But not even Fulford's walk in the Swazi rough was quite as adventurous as Wilson's life story.
The father of three played semi-professional football for a team called Deal Town, and is quick to add that they won the FA Vase, the amateur equivalent of the FA Cup, last year. Wilson was merely a spectator in that match, having been forced to give up the game because of a serious groin injury at the age of 26.
'After that I worked as a builder and helped lay a few bricks in the Channel Tunnel,' joked Wilson said with the kind of understatement that could only be matched by Tiger Woods declaring that he played 'okay' golf in 2000.
Wilson has been playing the Sunshine Tour since 1996, but has yet to win a tournament. On the summer portion of the tour this year, Wilson missed the cut in the South African Masters, failed to qualify for the Alfred Dunhill Championship and South African Open, and finished joint 37th in last week's South African PGA Championship.
His total earnings on the 2000/2001 Sunshine Tour are R16,841 from 11 events, and his best ever finish on the Tour is tie 10th in this season's Botswana Open. 'I've been struggling with my putting, but today (on Thursday) I `found the blade' - I hit the ball so close to the hole that it was fairly simple,' Wilson said.
Wilson was really only tested at the par-four 15th. His drive finished in the trees on the right of the fairway, and from there he could only chip out before managing to get up and down for par.
Vaughan again finds himself amidst the early contenders for the third week running. The American was the leader in the clubhouse for most of the day following a round of five birdies, an eagle and a bogey.
Vaughan eagled the par-five 17th, lipping out for an albatross with a four-wood from 230 metres. He has been remarkably consistent on the summer leg of the Sunshine Tour, but has failed to carry that form through to a victory.
Vaughan led for 36 holes of the Dimension Data Pro-Am and shared the halfway lead in last week's South African PGA Championship before falling away on the weekend. 'I am tired of coming in to talk to the press on Thursday and Friday. I want to be in here on the weekend,' Vaughan said. 'I feel a win is close.'