He was born in Clapham, south London, during World War II. Neither of his parents was religious. His school was nominally Church of England, but during scripture classes he was always, as he put it, "the number one sceptic". He graduated in Modern History from Magdalen College, Oxford in 1963.
He first came across the Shroud during the 1950s, when he was in his mid-teens, in an illustrated article by World War II hero Group Captain Leonard Cheshire. It was the famous image on the negative of the Shroud that dealt the first blow to his formerly complacent agnosticism. In 1972 he converted to Roman Catholicism.
Wilson is most well known for his research on Shroud of Turin. Writing in Free Inquiry, historian Charles Freeman heavily criticized Wilson's writings on the subject, commenting "He is not taken seriously by any respected historian... Wilson has failed to provide any significant evidence from this mass of material to back his narrative. It seems to fail at every point. He provides no evidence that the Shroud existed in Jerusalem, no evidence that a burial shroud arrived in Edessa."
He participated in Channel 4's three part TV series Jesus: The Evidence (1984) and wrote the accompanying book of the same name. The series proved to be highly controversial and sparked a national furore, marking a significant moment in the changing fortunes of religious broadcasting in the UK.
- The Turin Shroud: The Burial Cloth of Jesus Christ?, 1979 ISBN 0-385-15042-3
- Mind Out of Time?: Reincarnation Claims Investigated, 1981
- All in the Mind: Reincarnation, Hypnotic Regression, Stigmata, Multiple Personality, and Other Little-understood Powers of the Mind, 1982
- Reincarnation?: The Claims Investigated, 1982
- Jesus: The Evidence, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1984
- The Exodus Enigma, 1985
- The Evidence of the Shroud, 1986
- Undiscovered: The Fascinating World of Undiscovered Places, Graves, Wrecks and Treasure, 1987
- The After Death Experience: The Physics of the Non-Physical, 1987 ISBN 0-688-08000-6
- The Bleeding Mind: An Investigation Into the Mysterious Phenomenon of Stigmata, 1988
- Stigmata: An Investigation into the Mysterious Appearance of Christ's Wounds in Hundreds of People from Medieval Italy to Modern America, 1989
- Superself: The Hidden Powers Within Us, 1989 ISBN 0283996560
- Holy Faces, Secret Places: An Amazing Quest for the Face of Jesus, 1991 ISBN 0-385-26105-5
- The Columbus Myth: Did Men of Bristol Reach America Before Columbus?, 1992
- Shakespeare: The Evidence : Unlocking the Mysteries of the Man and His Work, 1994
- In Search of Ghosts, 1995
- Jesus: The Evidence, 2nd ed., London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1996. ISBN 9780297835295; San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1997. ISBN 9780062514721
- The Blood and the Shroud: New Evidence That the World's Most Sacred Relic Is Real, 1998 ISBN 0-684-85529-1
- Life After Death: The Evidence, 1998
- The Bible As History, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1999 ISBN 0-89526-250-9
- The Turin Shroud: Unshrouding the Mystery, 2000 ISBN 1-85479-501-5
- Before the Flood: The Biblical Flood as a Real Event and How It Changed the Course of Civilization, 2002 ISBN 0-312-30400-5
- John Cabot and the Matthew, 2003 ISBN 978-1-55081-131-5
- Nostradamus the Man Behind the Prophecies, 2003 ISBN 0-312-31790-5
- Lost World of the Kimberley: Extraordinary New Glimpses of Australia's Ice Age Ancestors, 2006 ISBN 1-741-14391-8
- Murder at Golgotha: A Scientific Investigation into the Last Days of Jesus's Life, His Death, and His Resurrection, 2007 ISBN 0-312-36662-0
- The Shroud: The 2000-Year-Old Mystery Solved, 2010 ISBN 978-0-593-06359-0 (also known as The Shroud: Fresh Light on the 2000-Year-Old Mystery, 2010 ISBN 978-0-553-82422-3)
- The Book of Geoffroi De Charny with the Livre Charny edited and translated by Nigel Bryant, 2021 ISBN 978-1-78327-585-4
- "Before the Flood". Kirkus Reviews.
- "Mind Out of Time?". New Scientist.
- "Nostradamus: The Man Behind the Prophecies". Publishers Weekly.
- "Reincarnation Cases" Archived 24 September 2015 at the Wayback Machine. The Tablet.
- "The After Death Experience" Archived 9 December 2014 at the Wayback Machine. Kirkus Reviews.
- "The Blood and the Shroud". Publishers Weekly.
- McCowen, Sharyn. "Sceptic gives 'resounding yes' to truth of Shroud" Archived 2011-09-27 at the Wayback Machine. The Catholic Weekly, 23 May 2010.
- . Penguin author bio.
- Freeman, Charles. (2012). "The Shroud of Turin and the Image of Edessa: A Misguided Journey" Archived 9 September 2012 at the Wayback Machine. Free Inquiry.
- "Jesus: The Evidence[15/04/84] (1984)". BFI. Archived from the original on 16 August 2018. Retrieved 16 August 2018.
- Ian Wilson, Jesus: The Evidence (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1984). ISBN 0-297-78325-4. The TV series was directed and produced by David W. Rolfe and narrated by Jeremy Kemp. 
- Wallis, Richard (27 January 2016). "Channel 4 and the declining influence of organized religion on UK television. The case of Jesus: The Evidence" (PDF). Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television. 36 (4): 668–688. doi:10.1080/01439685.2015.1132821. ISSN 0143-9685.